For Haitian orphans, talking can help in recovery

Thu Jan 28, 2010 6:18pm EST
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By Yvonne Bell and Marco Trujillo

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Four-year-old Jo, orphaned by Haiti's devastating earthquake, was chatting on a cell phone and asking for toys and sweets.

The young boy told a Haitian Red Cross volunteer he was on the phone with his mother, although she was one of the tens of thousands killed in the January 12 catastrophe in the poor Caribbean country.

"I asked him, 'Who have you been talking to?'" Red Cross worker Magalie Saint Simon, who rescued the boy after the quake, said in an interview on Thursday.

"With my mother," he told her. "She said she was not coming to get me ... because she is dead."

Jo and other orphans are being treated by a mobile psychological counseling unit deployed for the first time in such a disaster by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Ea Suzanne Ashak, who heads the unit, said the ICRC learned the importance of quick psychological intervention after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that killed more than 200,000 people, mainly in Indonesia, India, Thailand, Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

"People who didn't get any psycho-support withered, they didn't engage in society again, they didn't engage in rebuilding society," she said. "Their livelihood was lost, they didn't know what to do, they didn't know where to turn, they sort of all just sat around, hung around."

In Haiti, the goal is to immediately help people cope with their extreme distress so they can focus on physical survival, she said.   Continued...