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Struggling With a Post-Earthquake Birthday Party

Feb. 4

Mercy Corps’ first Comfort for Kids training took place in a less-than-spectacular setting, but that didn’t detract from its success. Approximately 40 nurses, teachers, day care providers and others gathered under a tent atop a crumbling construction site to learn about how they can help children overcome trauma.

Griffen Samples, our head of Comfort for Kids, led the session alongside a Haitian psychologist and professor named Albert Seide. What they heard from participants was tragic but not surprising: children in Haiti are afraid. They're afraid to be alone, afraid of loud noises, afraid of another earthquake. Many adults share these anxieties, plus they fear going hungry.

Many participants were worried about their own children or the children they care for. They had become clingy, some said. They cry a lot, and want to be with their mothers all the time. Several had taken to sleeping with their parents like babies. Participants seemed calmed by the assurance that these behaviors are normal in the aftermath of a disaster.

Many participants didn’t know how to proceed with life “as normal” after the earthquake. One participant, Natalie Duverson, is a 32-year-old teacher and mom. She explained that her daughter’s birthday is coming up and the little girl wants some kind of celebration, even if it’s just drinking soda pop and sharing birthday wishes.

Natalie wavered: How could they celebrate in the wake of a national tragedy? She seemed relieved to hear that a birthday celebration — something joyful but not over the top — would likely provide much-needed emotional relief for the whole family.

Today was the first of what we anticipate will be many more trainings for the parents, teachers and caregivers of Haiti. We’ll also run community activities — plays, concerts, drum circles, dances — that will help lighten the load of both children and adults. And our Comfort for Kids activities workbook should be in kid’s hands in the coming months.

Together, these efforts are a recipe for the emotional recovery of Haiti’s children. “Before this training, I thought I knew for sure how to deal with my kids after the earthquake, but it wasn’t working and they just became more agitated,” explained Natalie. “Now I’ve learned there are better ways.”

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