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Hope Amidst the Rubble
How a non-profit is working to make life better in Haiti, two years after a devastating earthquake
The catastrophic 7.0 magnitude earthquake that hit Haiti on January 12, 2010, traumatized all 9 million residents: 250,000 lives were lost and 1.5 million were left homeless.
Out of the depths of loss and despair, Haitian caregivers are learning self-care techniques from The Center for Mind-Body Medicine that help them find a calm in the chaos. CMBM is a nonprofit founded by James S. Gordon, M.D., that trains caregivers to use simple, practical, scientifically grounded mind-body techniques, such as meditation, guided imagery, biofeedback and yoga. It is through these techniques that the Center is endeavoring to bring hope back to Haiti.
Hope is laughter
Haiti’s lepers and amputees come to the Cardinal Léger Hospital in Léogâne, the epicenter of the earthquake’s destruction. The Sisters and lay nurses in charge are often overwhelmed by the suffering around them.
But little by little, they brighten during a CMBM workshop, appreciating the relaxation of Soft Belly breathing, laughing while they shake and dance. “The first time laughing since last January 12th,” notes one Sister. “We will use what you have taught us, ourselves,” promises Sister Yolande, Hospital Director. “And we will teach our patients too.”
Hope is dancing like a child
Marilyn, a pediatrician, is learning to move through the melancholia that engulfed her after the earthquake and beyond the deaths of her brother and her husband. Marilyn recounts, “I remember my loss and I cry, but then I use the guided imagery and the deep breathing and dance like I did when I was a teenager and I watch my mood change. The insomnia has gone. I am sharing what I am learning with my patients and in my church.”
Hope is finding your song
Each anniversary of the earthquakes brings waves of fear and reawakened physical, emotional and behavioral symptoms of trauma. Chronic headaches and stomachaches return with renewed force. Sleep becomes haunted with nightmares of family members buried in the rubble. Children are once again wetting beds. Anger manifests in family quarrels, child abuse and street conflicts.
These phenomena are called “anniversary reactions.” CMBM’s work helps mitigate and transform anniversary reactions into opportunities for mastery.
“On the anniversary ... we were in church,” says Marie Mercédès Lorcy, Directrice, Lems-Lynn School. “Everyone was so sad, tense and unable to express the sadness. I let myself cry. And then my daughter was able to cry too. And in my crying I found strength.” Marie continues, “I asked myself, ‘What have I learned in the Mind-Body program and how can I use it to help?’ I began to sing a song — I have never done this before. They all began to sing with me and lift their arms and cry. We opened our eyes and we were all calm.”
Hope is Haiti
By the end of 2012, more than 25,000 will have participated in CMBM’s programs. Over the next 5 years, the Center plans to train 1,500-2,000 clinicians, educators and religious and community leaders to create a fully sustainable national program of psychological care.
As Dr. Gordon says, “The wonderful, caring group of Haitian professionals we’re gathering together and training are the nucleus of society-wide change.”
We asked experts, authors and readers like you to share their stories of Hope. Every day for the next month, you'll find new tips for optimism on Gaiam Life, the Stream of Consciousness blog and our social media sites: Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. And don’t miss the GaiamTV.com Hope Film Festival, with FREE films all month long.