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William Spear


Helping Children Work Through Trauma in Haiti: A Guide for Caregivers and Volunteers

Posted: 02/25/2010 12:02 pm

Compassionate response from the global community has brought much attention to the needs of children affected by the earthquake in Haiti and its aftermath. Years of work in other areas hit by natural disasters has led us to develop a simple guide to support those already in the field or planning to visit Haiti soon. It is our intention in this article to provide an overview and helpful guideline for use during the important second phase of this disaster, the Recovery Phase, as the Emergency Phase is now nearing stability.

There is an enormous need to help children in the second Recovery Phase of this disaster before rushing too quickly to rebuild the external world. Governments and agencies too often rush to enter the third or Reconstruction Phase that follows a disaster of this magnitude without understanding the consequences of ignoring the deeply held emotional traumas of the local population. It is our intention to provide support to caregivers who wish to address the specific needs of children during the six-month period following the earthquake so the number of people who actually develop P.T.S.D. (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) can be substantially minimized.

Much more can be said, and certainly much more has been written about trauma and children than is mentioned here. Many resources are available to families and professionals, but few take into consideration the underlying cultural needs of this resilient nation. After much discussion with community leaders, local teachers, parents and caregivers as well as considering the traditions of this unique culture, this guide has been assembled to support Haitians in the months and years ahead.

What is important is that body centered therapies and approaches are every bit as important as any other efforts. It is my sincere hope that this guide will be of value to every child and caregiver now and in future generations.

Understanding Trauma

Trauma is a wound to the energy of the body, either in physical or psychological terms. It is used to define an event that has cause harm or injury to the psyche, as in a "traumatic" event, disaster, disease or accident. Most traumatic events are totally uncontrollable; their results shatter people's personal sense of safety and security. Present in every episode that might be labeled traumatic:

  • Extreme fear and helplessness
  • A possibility or threat of serious harm or death


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