Inspiration Report

By Dr. Judy Kuriansky

A leading American clinical psychologist  and post-disaster comfort care expert shares insights from her “emotional first aid” mission in Haiti.  See her full story on Beliefnet.

We began our journey to Haiti in hopes we could recover the remains of the priests lost in the rubble of a collapsed school building in Haiti.

Father shifting through rubble.JPGFather Wismick and I took a solemn trip one morning to look for the bodies of the 10 missing young priests. To him, they were like sons he’d proudly nurtured as he prepared them for ordination. Last he’d heard they were trapped in the school building in which they teach and where they were attending a seminar given by a visiting Brazilian doctor who had come especially to give a lecture. 


We reached the area– and it was a big pile of rubble, like so much else in the city.  Schoolbooks were strewn everywhere. I picked up some charred texts and smeared notebooks and handed them to Father Wismick to keep as reminders of the children who studied and laughed here. We had to step precariously among the piles of tangled building materials, upturned desks, broken chairs, and strewn paper.


Father Wismick was frustrated that a group of parishioners had paid considerable funds for a group of men to use a machine to try to find the bodies among the mess, but to no avail.  No future efforts like this were likely, leading Father Wismick to conclude that these men, his “sons,” will remain here for years until the area is razed.  “I am so sad,” he said, but then resolved, “There will be life that comes of this horrible death.”


That resolution later inspired the service he gave that afternoon for the nuns in his order, who lost six of their sisters in “le catastrophe.”  In an exceptionally touching ritual of hope, he gave each nun a piece of the rubble he retrieved from the ruins, and one by one they came up to the front to place it in a pot of a beautiful plant, and then again to pour water over the pot in a symbolic gesture of life arising out of death.


Above: Shifting through the Rubble. Photo by  Dr. Judy Kurianksy. See more of Dr. Judy’s photos from Haiti.

By Dr. Judy Kuriansky

A leading American clinical psychologist  and post-disaster comfort care expert shares insights from her “emotional first aid” mission in Haiti.  See her full story on Beliefnet.

drjudyhaiti.JPGBeing able to mourn loved ones is crucial for healing, but in crises like this (as in the tsunami and holocaust), people do not have bodies they can bury or faces they could kiss “goodbye.”  Literally thousands of corpses had been scooped up and dumped into piles. One important communal way to honor the dead and bring some semblance of closure are collective mass memorials. One such memorial was held on the site where bodies were piled outside Port-au-Prince on February 1 in Haiti.  


When I returned to New York I attended another mass memorial for missing loved ones, at St. Francis of Assisi Church, led by the most dignified and revered Retired Archbishop of Port-au-Prince, Francois Wolf Ligonde. He had presided over the iconic Roman Catholic Notre Dame Cathedral in Port-au-Princefor 41 years until the new Archbishop Joseph Serge Miot took over; in the quake, Miot’s body was tragically hurled from a balcony and retrieved from ruins at the cathedral grounds. Archbishop Ligonde reassured the assembled mourners that the quake was an act of nature and that belief in God will salve the wounded souls of the living and the dead. After the service, he told me that he himself had lost everything in the quake, and suffered deep sadness, but he was bolstered by his faith in God.


The retired archbishop echoed the strength of the Haitian priests with whom I stayed in Haiti, such as Father Quesnel Alphonse who prayed day and night with the parishioners. They, and so many of the people I met in Haiti, lived from a determined sense of faith in God as the basis of their hope.


Above: Photo of Dr. Judy Kurianksy observing the damages and emotional needs in Haiti.  See more of Dr. Judy’s photos from Haiti.


By Dr. Judy Kuriansky


A leading American clinical psychologist  and post-disaster comfort care expert shares insights from her “emotional first aid” mission in Haiti.  See her full story on Beliefnet.


Kids in Haiti.JPG
The news has abounded with dramatic stories of children being abused and trafficked. I think of another group of extremely at-risk youth: injured orphans. Their plight was brought home to me as I stood in an operating room, outfitted in scrubs, observing a 5-year old boy having his leg reset by an American surgeon.  The attending nurse pulled aside the cover to reveal that he had already had an arm amputated, and explains to me that she had been told of the Haitian culture’s stigma against the disabled, and she is concerned about these young disabled childrens’ future.


In another room, I visited a 13- month old little girl, who lay still on a hospital bed with her aunt and a volunteer changing the stained sheet and soiled diaper under her. The little girls’ leg, crushed when her house fell, had been amputated from the knee down. The volunteer tells me that the mother died in the quake, that the aunt would likely not be able to take her in since she had her own children, and that it is unclear whether the father would be wiling to care for her, given her disability. Only a few lucky children are being evacuated to American hospitals or homes.


The situation sounded desperate, until I talked about possibilities with my friend, Jim Luce, who runs Orphans International Worldwide, which has had an orphanage in Jacmel, Haiti for years. And I was further buoyed after a presentation I gave about the situation in Haiti at the The Third Psychology Day at the United Nations, when a psychologist colleague approached me and said that she would like to adopt that little girl.


I am exhilarated by her open heart, confirming that there is hope.


Photo by Dr. Judy Kurianksy. See more of Dr. Judy’s photos.


This has been a tough time for many people touched by economic issues, but one expert is saying we can probably make it through the hard times just by using what we already have in our homes. This is good news for all your “collectors” out there!

Donna Every, author of What Do You Have in Your House? (Tate Publishing) has learned that pulling from the hard assets already in your home and the often overlooked assets inside yourself can help keep the ship afloat.

“When times get tough, some people feel it is their lot to sit back and accept their fate,” says Every. “However, I have seen the best that human potential has to offer, so I don’t accept that – and neither should anyone else. We can make things happen because we all have some gift or ability, some skill or some resource that we can use to transform our financial situation. All we need is the faith and determination to make it happen.”

Every’s tips for getting through the tough times include:

• Liquidate dormant assets. With the massive wealth accumulated in America, most people have possessions or property of value sitting in their attics or garages. With the advent of craigslist and eBay as online sales resources, many of these dormant assets can be turned into cash. Claen out the basement and garage and sell stuff!

• Mine overlooked your talent assets . Everyone has something they do well, and if they do it well enough, it’s not much more difficult to market it. Some people can sew and cook, while others are artists or musicians. In most households, just making a little extra money every month can make all the difference, so part-time jobs doing something you do well can help fill the gap. For example, one woman I met in Barbados couldn’t make ends meet with her day job as a maid, so on the weekends, she opened a mini-restaurant off the side of her house. She’d prepare meals during her off time during the week, and sell them to her neighbors on Friday and Saturday.

• Keep the faith.  Belief in yourself, your motivation and your abilities is a far better path to tread than to give in to despair when the tables turn against you. Meeting challenges head on can not only save the day – they can also change your life.