As the world pulls together to deliver physical necessities such as food, water and shelter, we must remember to respond to the emotional healing that is needed nationwide in Haiti as well.

Following the earthquake, the children will experience post-traumatic stress and they will have deep scars, physically and emotionally, that must be tended to.

In the beginning, most children will be in emotional and physical shock.  They will be grateful for medical and physical care, they’ll play and act as though nothing of such magnitude occurred; they will be dazed.  Until the shock has diminished, they will act like children do, as though they are resilient – but they are not.

With time, reality will slowly set in.  Children will wonder where their family is.  They will feel anger, confusion, fear and stress.  These changes will at first be incomprehensible, and they must be addressed.

Recovery will not take place overnight, and there will be many phases of recovery for these victims.  A timeline of what can be done to help the children and adults in Port-au-Prince should follow:

Immediate Care

  • Design a system/database that will provide the medical attention needed to all victims.
  • Deploy an emotional support program. For example, my organization, Rainbows, has a Silver Linings program.  It is a community support program for counselors, volunteers, churches and any other relief organizations needing additional tools to assist youth experiencing emotional turmoil due to loss or change.
  • Begin forming community support groups within tent cities.
  • Long term care for Haiti should be set up now – the novelty of this disaster is already wearing off, and the phases of recovery, both physical and emotional, should be set into place immediately.

Near Future Care

  • Formalize closure for families, including memorial services.
  • Determine how to rebuild and who should be involved.
  • Talk with citizens about self protection including food, housing, schooling, etc.
  • Address fears of future earthquakes.

With a disaster of this magnitude, there aren’t enough clinicians in Haiti to offer the support that is needed.  Organizations such as Rainbows For All Children can help guide these children through this horrific event and its aftermath.  I strongly encourage society to take part in this long road to recovery.  To assist with emotional relief efforts or to learn more about Rainbows, please visit www.rainbows.org.

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Suzy Yehl Marta

Suzy Yehl Marta

Suzy Yehl Marta, a divorced mother of three sons, gave up the security of her three jobs to do something she knew in her heart had to be done for our youth who were grieving a life-changing loss. She established Rainbows, now the world’s largest not-for-profit organization dedicated solely to helping families cope with loss. While growing up, Suzy dreamed of being a good wife and mother. She never considered the possibility of divorce and was devastated when her marriage ended. She was relieved when family and friends told her there was no need to worry about her kids. “They’re resilient. They’ll bounce back,” she was told. But soon Suzy realized her sons were hurting as much as she was. She searched for the type of support that she was receiving as an adult. There was no place accessible for them to talk about what they were feeling. Certainly, there was therapy available, which she tried. At the end of the counseling session, she was advised not to return. The therapist said they were just fine adjusting to their loss. But he never told them how to do it. What Suzy learned later was that they were all grieving the death of their nuclear family. In addition, her sons needed to be with other children their age going through the same experiences so they could understand their feelings. Working with other concerned single parents, Suzy began organizing weekend retreats for children in single-parent and step-family homes. In three years, more than 800 youth benefited from the retreats. After hearing their stories, Suzy was compelled to do more. She began working on a formal curriculum- the foundation of Rainbows. Rainbows has served nearly 2 million youth throughout the U.S. and 16 countries. Now the nation’s largest not-for-profit organization dedicated solely to helping families cope with loss.

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