Caregivers Find Comfort in Asking for Strength

Another message of hope emerged from the debriefing after the youth training. Modeling the self-care lesson we were taught in our training as Red Cross volunteers after 9/11, I asked all the Haitian volunteers to go around in a circle and share something they plan to do for themselves that would represent “being good to yourself.” When I had participated in these debriefing circles in New York for our 9/11 relief work, I would occasionally echo my mother’s favorite self-treat, that of taking a hot bath.

Other New York volunteers answered that they would go to the movies, eat pizza, or pet their cat. There were hardly pizzas and movies in Haiti after the earthquake, nor could they treat themselves with anything that would cost money. I needed to give them an example, so I came up with a non-material one: “I’d ask for a hug from my friend.” Motioning for Father Wismick to please give me a hug, he obliged, and that got them started. Most echoed one another, but the main response was, “Je veux devenir plus fort pour aider plus les autres” (“I want become stronger to be able to help others more”). At first we tried to get them to pick something else that would more clearly be for themselves, since they were already doing so much for others. But when they persisted with that answer, I realized the depth of their idea. To these youth, asking for strength to help others was as legitimate or comforting as treating themselves to pizza or a movie. I was moved and massively impressed by their intention to be empowered to serve. As we continued around the circle, hearing more wishes for strength and courage to help others more, I asked the group to encircle each other with that strength and courage.
Some lifted their arms in a universal sign of victory. The group laughed in a spirit of togetherness and hope. It struck me that these young comforters instinctively embodied the psychological principle that has been proven by research about volunteering and providing aide: in helping others, you are helped yourself.

All in all, the experiences were a powerful embodiment of the Haitian saying, “Where there’s life, there’s hope.”