On March 13, the AMURTEL team went to the Sitron camp as part of an ongoing program to help people with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms). Many are experiencing PTSD, due in part to the many aftershocks that rocked Port-au-Prince regularly for months after the earthquake. On this day, the camp committee announced a women’s gathering and the women quickly began spreading large grey tarps on the bare ground. The AMURTEL team had planned deep relaxation exercises and yoga, as well as stress debriefing which was organized by Gretchen from Global Grassroots, who facilitated women’s trauma recovery for the survivors of the Rwandan genocide. At first it seemed there would be plenty of room for everyone to spread out. But soon the space on the tarps was completely packed with at least 150 women and girls of all ages. Even the men in the camp had gathered around in interest.
We opened the gathering by explaining the normal reactions to a stressful event such as the earthquake. We described common experiences, such as trembling, difficulties with sleep, racing heartbeat, over-sensitivity to certain sounds, hyper-alertness etc. The women began nodding empathically and eagerly joined in the discussion; sharing their own experiences vividly. They all expressed great relief at discovering that they were not sick, but rather having a normal reaction to an abnormal event. They listened with keen interest as we described how the stress-regulating system in our bodies, intended to help us survive trauma, can remain active in ways that become unhealthy. We then led the group in a series of breathing exercises, followed by some loosening stretches and yoga exercises. This was followed by a session of relaxation, with slow, regular, timed breathing designed to awaken a relaxation response and turn the stress system “off”. The women were elated to share how they felt lighter and rested and hopeful that they would be able to return to normal again. They had learnt techniques they could practice on their own, which were simple and easy to remember. The session ended with singing on a joyful, uplifting note. The singing continued, echoing from the hills even as we walked out of the camp.
For more information on AMURTEL’s work in Haiti please visit www.amurtelhaiti.org.