ATFT Trauma Mission to Haiti July 2010

Phyll and Howard Robson, UK

When we heard of the disastrous earthquake that struck Haiti on 12th January 2010, we immediately thought that TFT would have much to offer to the traumatized population, after the initial rescue and emergency interventions.

Haiti had already had a troubled history, being occupied by European colonists, the extinction of the native population, and replacement by African slaves, when plantations and logging provided great economic benefit for the colonists, but at a cost to later generations of Haitians, deforestation causing soil erosion and mud-slides. Despite achieving independence over 200 years ago, the country has been marred by violence, instability, poverty and corruption; there is a lack of infrastructure and susceptibility to hurricanes.

When the opportunity to visit Haiti came later in the year, on behalf of ATFTF, we were in a position to volunteer. We were to be part of a mission led by Dr Jean-Murat Carolle (Angels for Haiti), which was part of a larger medical mission led by Dr Charles René.

We immediately thereafter began collecting supplies for the visit, especially as part of the project was to enable the children to express themselves through art; this included pens, paints, brushes, books and paper, as well as some medical and dental supplies and toiletries. We were particularly grateful for the help of our dentist and family and friends.

We were also grateful for the provision of the TFT algorithm manual in French from Suzanne Connolly, which we modified slightly for the local requirements, and printed sufficient copies for our expected training sessions. We managed to obtain a reasonable rate from the airlines for our considerable luggage excess.

Essential to visiting a country such as Haiti is to understand the local culture, attend to personal safety and health (vaccinations and anti-malarial drugs). We attended to these issues as much as possible, to maximize our contribution to the mission and not be a burden.

We left home in the early hours of 1st July via Newcastle, London, Miami and Port-au Prince for La Vallee de Jacmel in Haiti. La Vallee is a mountain village serving a rural population in southern Haiti, 11 miles from the coastal city of Jacmel. The primary occupation is farming; there is economic hardship, and lack of resources and infrastructure. Although some distance from the epi-centre of the earthquake, and there had been only ten deaths within the region of La Vallee, Jacmel itself had suffered considerable structural damage, and the experience of the earthquake and after shocks had affected many local people.

There had also been an influx of people from more affected areas, having lost homes, possessions and whole families.

International arrivals in Port-au-Prince were welcomed on leaving the aircraft by local musicians, which typified the welcome we received throughout the country. Due to structural damage, an old hangar served as the arrivals hall. Views of Port-au-Prince on landing and subsequent take-off, and whilst transferring to our domestic flight, gave us our first glimpse of life in Haiti. The number of amputees was notable, without prostheses.

We met some other members of the team for the first time whilst in the airports, subsequently others at the hotel in La Vallee. Our first TFT client was at the domestic terminal in Port-au-Prince, a young team member suffering from nausea due to traveling and the oppressive heat; she completely recovered, completing the rest of the journey uneventfully. A short flight took us to Jacmel, and thence by road to La Vallee, the 11-mile journey taking an hour and a half due to the poor condition of the unmetalled mountain road.

No formal training had been planned for the weekend of our arrival, so we joined some members of our group visiting local schools, to meet the children and review their art projects. Our group included a lecturer in art and Ally, who at ten years old was a United Nations “Art Miles Mural Project and Shoes of Hope Ambassador”. During the weekend however, we offered the team an opportunity to learn something about our work with TFT, and encouraged them to treat any anxieties that they might have. This was so popular, that two nurses, a doctor and an artist attended our subsequent two-day algorithm training.

The formal TFT training took place as a two-day course commencing on the Monday at a training center in the countryside some distance from our accommodation. The building was unfinished, being a concrete shell, but at least there was a roof. Thirty-two people attended training, including the four members of our team.

The local trainees were mostly professionals (teachers, nurses, community leaders and medical and nursing students), many traveled for several hours by foot or motorcycle to attend, some from as far as Port-au-Prince, although none stayed overnight. Beverages were available during training and a hot lunch provided each day. Each participant was provided with a training manual. Although we were often able to communicate with a mixture of French and English, Haitian Creole was the local language, and a Creole speaking interpreter (Dr Carolle) was essential. Phyll was lead trainer; the trainees were attentive and enthusiastic. Certificates of attendance were distributed at the end of training.

On subsequent days, we attended the hospital in La Vallee, a fifteen-minute walk from our accommodation, with the medical, surgical and paediatric team. Howard undertook medical clinics, and calibrated basic equipment. With the lack of investigations, interpreters and drugs, TFT was particularly valuable, especially for treating palpitations, anxiety and pain.

The trainees were invited to attend the hospital with Phyll, to experience supervised practice treating local people and staff suffering from a variety of problems, including pain, anxiety, anger, frustration and traumatic stress. Most of them harbored fears of dying should there be another earthquake, and a fear of living in their home, as well as those who had lost some or all of their family members.

The trainees who attended the hospital demonstrated enthusiasm and the pleasure of experiencing the power of TFT for the first time. Dr Carolle has subsequently obtained testimony from some of the trainees and clients, attesting to the benefit of the training to themselves and the communities they serve.

We travelled home by the same route as we came. TFT treatment continuing right up to departure from Jacmel airstrip.

We arrived home on the 13th July. The weather had been kind to us during our visit, enabling us to have the good fortune to appreciate the beauty of a country, largely unknown to the rest of the world.

We are also enriched by the great friendliness and resilience of the people of Haiti, and our thoughts remain with them, as the physical and mental problems consequent to the earthquake, remain, compounded by the continued poor governance, lack of infrastructure, hurricanes, and now severe water-born infections, as the International community interest turns to fresh crises.

We are grateful to all who supported us, especially the people of Haiti who welcomed us; Suzanne Connolly for the French version of the algorithm training manual; Dr Jean-Murat Carolle for inviting and supporting us; Beate Berman-Enn for assisting with translation during training and supervision; Guy Marriott and Anisa Toscano for supplying contact details and security advice; Joanne Callahan for support and encouragement and the ATFT Foundation in the USA,, and UK.

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