The needs in Haiti are many - food and water, shelter, medical supplies
and sanitation - but mental health also figures into families' ability
to survive after this month's earthquake. This weekend, a Mercy Corps
team arrived in Haiti with a mental health mission. The group, with
offices in Portland and Seattle, is offering "Comfort for Kids," a
program they used in the United States after the 9/11 attacks and
Hurricane Katrina, and at quake sites in China and Peru.
Griffen Samples, technical adviser and trainer for "Comfort for Kids,"
says the brief lessons and materials are designed to prompt children
and adults to start talking, and healing.
"One of the great lessons from previous disasters we've been involved
in is that people need to talk about it, they need to get out their
stories. But children tend not to talk about things first; first, they
act them out. Then, they draw; they might write about it next, and they
might talk about it last."
Even before a disaster, says Samples, mental health services in
impoverished countries are few; and now, parents who are frantically
trying to meet children's basic needs don't have much time to consider
their emotional health. That's why, she says, the handouts and other
materials are short and easy to use.
"There's simple things about how to answer kids' questions, how to
recognize what are normal reactions to trauma, as opposed to bad
behavior. A lot of times, people think that a kid is acting out or
they're being bad, when in fact, it's actually just a normal response
to a trauma."
Samples says her team will work with parents and grandparents, teachers
and child-care providers, with materials in French and Creole. For the
kids, they've also put together "comfort kits" that include blankets,
stuffed animals and books.
is already supplying food and water in Haiti, and
hiring survivors in a pay-for-work program to clear debris and start
rebuilding. The group is posting updates on its Web site, www.mercycorps.org.