Bringing Emotional First Aid and Hope to Haiti
Dr. Judy Kuriansky, an expert in post-disaster comfort care, shares insights of hope from her “emotional first aid” mission in Haiti.
This leading American clinical psychologist was one of the first mental health experts on the scene after the Haitian quake. She shares her inspiring journey of training Haitian helpers to comfort survivors.
Within five days of the news of the tragic earthquake, Father Wismick Jean Charles and I jumped on a Jet Blue plane landing first in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic, where we caught a six-hour bus ride to Port-au-Prince. With all the tragic news about people being buried in the rubble, Father Wismick, a Haitian-born Catholic priest, had to see if we could retrieve the bodies of 10 of the young priests whom he had trained. He’d learned that they were trapped in the rubble of a school building that collapsed. Sadly, we were unable to retrieve their remains.
We came with five suitcases stuffed with medical supplies to deliver to a local hospital. We also planned to set up a system to offer “psychological first aid” to the Haitians who were suffering emotionally as well as physically. We set up camp at St. Louis King of France Church, a parish in Port-au-Prince related to Father Wismick’s order, and stayed along with hundreds of parishioners in open air or under a tent in the churchyard. Like thousands of survivors in Haiti, we lived without running water, showers, or comforts. Food was scarce; fortunately the priests and nuns fed us rice and beans twice.
I had been to Haiti just a few months earlier with Father Wismick to oversee the development of a community center being built in his native village, Petites Desdunes, about four and a half hours from Port-au-Prince. It had been ravaged by the recent floods. As the main representative to the United Nations for a non-governmental organization, The International Association of Applied Psychology, I have been involved with many projects aimed at implementing the UN Millennium Development Goals, including efforts to eradicate poverty and AIDS, provide education, and combat violence. A year ago, we invited Father Wismick to join our team, and we committed to support his efforts in Haiti. Now in New York while attending Fordham University to get his Ph.D. before going back to Haiti, Father Wismick has become a cherished friend and colleague whose work I admire.