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Red Cross Offers Psychosocial Support to Earthquake Victims

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  • Red Cross Offers Psychosocial Support to Earthquake Victims

    Red Cross Offers Psychosocial Support to Earthquake Victims
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    13 Jun 2006 15:44:00 GMT<!-- 13 Jun 2006 15:44:00 GMT ## for search indexer, do not remove--> Source: International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) - Switzerland
    by Bonnie Gillespie, American Red Cross
    Website: http:/<wbr>/<wbr>

    YOGYAKARTA, Indonesia - Ibu Raja was crying when a Red Cross psychosocial worker approached her. Raja's village in Klaten had been leveled by the May 27th quake, and her beloved daughter and many of her neighbors had died. Sujata Bordoloi, Manager of the American Red Cross Psychosocial Support Program for tsunami recovery efforts in Aceh province, traveled with six other trained specialists from the American Red Cross and the Indonesian Red Cross to Yogyakarta only three days after the devastating earthquake. Having already reached more than 60,000 tsunami survivors through community-based and culturally-relevant activities in Aceh, the combined Red Cross psychosocial support team deployed to areas hardest-hit by the quake to offer psychological first-aid and community-based interventions to help ease the suffering of those affected by the disaster.

    Psychological First Aid "Psychological first aid is actually a simple process," explained Bordoloi.

    "It's five steps that our teams use to interact with people affected by a disaster

    The first is to meet the immediate needs of a person, whether that's water, food or comfort."
    So when Bordoloi met Ibu Raja, who was grieving the loss of her daughter, she immediately comforted Raja and offered her emotional support. "Raja cried for awhile and was withdrawn, but eventually she began talk openly and shared what she had been through and what she was feeling," said Bordoloi.

    "Listening is the next step in psychological first aid - to be open to what they're saying, and then to accept a person's feelings without judgment."
    Raja and Bordoloi spoke for more than an hour, then Raja asked Bordoloi to go with her to see the collapsed home where her daughter had died.
    This helped Bordoloi identify what Raja's deeper needs were - the next step in psychological first aid.
    Raja, of her own initiative, wanted to face the place and source of the loss she was feeling. "Through our conversation, Raja herself was coming to a decision and moving forward in her own way, and seeing that happen in a person is the ultimate goal of psychological first aid," said Bordoloi.

    "Once she began talking about what had happened, then facing that loss emotionally and physically, she was able to talk about her own future and talk about what her options were." "The most amazing part, though, was that by the end, Raja was offering me food and something to drink," Bordoloi said.
    "I was there to help her, but once she had processed her experience, she wanted to take care of me. The change was remarkable, and touching." Community-Based Activities
    In the first few days of the psychosocial team's arrival in Yogyajakarta, the Red Cross team conducted rapid assessments in 15 villages and 10 schools, offering the opportunity to provide psychological first aid to people like Raja who had lost loved ones and to allow residents to express what type of activities would be most beneficial to their community.
    "Even though the earthquake had destroyed almost everything in the villages we visited, we found that most people were staying in their communities," said Bordoloi.
    "There was a sense of cohesiveness and resilience among villagers, and that even though structures were gone, the communities still remained in tact."
    But a disaster so catastrophic, Bordoloi went on to explain, can often take away a person's "sense of place" - the cultural elements and routines of daily life, such as adults going to work, children to school, or families for prayers at the mosque. "Children are especially affected by these types of changes," said Amin Khoja, an American Red Cross Psychosocial Support Field Officer.

    "Parents told us stories about children seeing their school building collapsed and starting to cry." Many psychosocial community interventions are designed to help restore "sense of place" for disaster survivors of all ages, through facilitating activities that community members request.

    And in the village of Birin in Klaten, parents and teachers asked the Red Cross psychosocial support team to set up an "informal school" to help their children return to some semblance of normal life and routine.
    "The village leader offered us space in his front yard, so we set up tarps to have shade, and brought out school supplies and games just for the kids," said Khoja. "As you can imagine, word spread pretty quickly and children from all over the community literally came running."

    Two young girls darted through the rubble remaining of their home to a lone cupboard left standing. Flinging open its doors, they emerged moments later, triumphantly waving their backpacks, thrilled to go back to school.
    Another boy on crutches with an injured leg was carried on the back of his mother through the debris-lined path leading to the informal school site, to be reunited for the first time with his classmates and friends.
    In all, more than 50 children participated in creative and expressive activities during the first day of informal schooling in Birin.
    Despite the evidence of disaster all around them, and the limitations of bandages and crutches for many, the children laughed, sang songs, drew pictures and played games for hours in what was perhaps their first venue to reconnect "as kids" after the earthquake. "Our school is broken," said one little boy. "So this is really fun. This makes it better."

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