Monday, November 15, 2010

Dr. Herby leads a practice session

This was my final day in Haiti. We trained an excellent group of Friends today and had just the right number so that they could work comprehensively in small groups with their facilitators. We were in a horrific camp in Port au Prince. We were first directed to a tent that was full of garbage and had no seating and started looking around for another place. The Camp manager directed us to the basement of the old city theatre that sat in the middle of the camp. The earthquake had split it down the middle, and it still looked like it was in a somewhat precarious position. The basement area looked safer than the patio area, but it had a stench and such a thick layer of dust and grime that the nurses and Steve all started having allergic reactions - itching and respiratory. The Friends didn't seem to be bothered at all, probably used to it more being camp residents. We powered our way through the didactic part and then did the practices out on the patio amongst rubble and rebars and a huge crumbling column over us. We went back and forth trying to choose our poison. The Friends were remarkably enthralled by the work. At first they talked about just needing more cash to give to their older people so they would have food, but they finally agreed that they had something incredibly important to give them in helping them stabilize themselves from trauma upon trauma. They were receptive and hungry to do their own work and grateful that we were there for their own care. They made a good first pass on the skills and want more training soon. One woman was struggling with heart palpitations, agitation, and anxiety that were re-activated by her fear of Hurricane Tomas last week. In the trauma work, I helped her focus on the sensations in her body when she remembered a day in May when a clean water source finally arrived at the camp she had just migrated to--specifically, sensations of the cool water running through her when she could finally drink, and feeling the water on her hands as she was able to wash her clothes and her dishes. Working with this resource helped her neutralize the activation of fear that a tree would crush her tent in hurricane winds, and her body settled to a calmer, more balanced state.. Help coming is the only hope for these most vulnerable people.
The HelpAge model here in Haiti has been such a palpable lifeline for older people here who have lost everything in the earthquake- their homes, their livelihood, sometimes their spouse or a child. And now they are in IDP camps often with no family around or a grandchild or two that is solely in their care, a leaky tent, noise and violence everywhere. And what I heard from the Friends over and over was that older people in the camps rely on HelpAge being there , for help getting clean water, for intermittent cash for food, for microcredit grants to start a small business back, for respite out of the oppression in the camps on monthly field trips out to the beach or mountains, for education about what to do to prevent cholera and what to do if they get cholera symptoms. The Friends visit their each of their 20 plus older people beneficiaries often twice a day, assisting with personal care when needed, giving them the latest information about security and health issues, and being a support. Now almost 100 of the 200 Friends have been trained in a trauma model which promotes psychological resiliency and they have more to give themselves and their people. And the Friends have a means of usefulness and livelihood as they themselves are getting back on their feet with the part time salary HelpAge pays them. They get to be a healing asset for their country. This HelpAge structure made it possible for many people to be reached. I am amazed and inspired to see what American dollars from AARP and HelpAge International can buy. It is quite stunning.
So off to bed and to catch an early plane out in the morning, very tired after a long couple of weeks, but so honored and privileged to be a part of all this.


  1. thanks for sharing. I worked on the social media fundraising part at aarp and it was one of the most amazing, rewarding things we've done all year. appreciate you sharing with us who aren't able to be on the ground. mind if i share your blog post with our community?

  2. or better yet, would you do a guest post for our blog telling our readers the impact they had on older Haitians? e me at if you'e interested. we'd love to share it.