SANTA ROSA, CA. January 12, 2011 was the first anniversary of the deadly earthquake that left Haiti devastated.
One little-noticed aspect of the tragedy that left 320,000 people injured and more than a million homeless is that many children have been orphaned.
Haitian government officials estimate their number at over 225,000.
Already living in one of the world’s poorest countries, they had to learn to cope with a devastated economy and ecology without the benefit of whatever help their parents might have been able to provide.
The experience of neglect, hunger, and homelessness can damage the mental health of these children as much as their bodies. Even before the earthquake, many suffered from posttraumatic stress disorder or PTSD, according to a report by Canadian psychiatrist Nicole Desrosiers.
The former Prime Minister of Haiti, Michelle Pierre, sums up Haiti’s history as: “dictatorship, persecution, deprivation, and repeated natural disasters.” “The polytrauma and psychiatric emergency presented by the Haitian people is one of the most severe ever known anywhere in the world,” says psychologist Cécile Allegra in the documentary “The Wound of the Soul.”
Some psychologists estimate that as much as 90% of the population may be affected by PTSD.
A group of mental health volunteers from Europe and the US went to Haiti offering free training to staff and volunteers at ten sites in Haiti. Encouraged by research studies showing large improvements in PTSD after treatment with EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques), this group decided to offer assistance to Haitian orphans by training 275 caregivers. EFT is easily learned, and works very quickly to dampen the emotional impact of traumatic memories. It combines acupressure with mental recall of a traumatic experience.
Jean-Michel Gurret, a certified French EFT trainer, taught EFT at two orphanages in 2011. He serves on the board of Energy Psychology Without Borders (EPSYSF), which organized the trip. “Some of the children we have seen here have witnessed horrors beyond my imagining,” he says, “and without EFT, I would feel helpless. Yet I have seen many of them improving quickly, again starting to laugh and play like the children they are, once they are free of the emotional grip of their previous.”
The group hopes that by training those who care for orphans, they will multiply their efforts, and have at least some impact on Haiti’s epidemic of PTSD.