by Tanya Ruckstuhl-Valenti LICSW, MSW

Tonight my thoughts are with the people of Haiti who have suffered the devastating losses of loved ones, friends and neighbors, homes, and access to water and food.  Already an impoverished nation, the earthquake that ripped Port Au Prince asunder on Tuesday could not have found a more fragile group of people to traumatize.

Trauma has two distinct facets:

 (1) An event and

(2) The meaning that is made of that event. 

A natural disaster such as an earthquake, tsunami or tornado is a shared experience, meaning it happens to an entire community, which decreases isolation but can increase paranoia if the meaning made of the event includes a sense of retribution by an angry, punishing God. 

In addition to locating survivors, tending to the injured, and rebuilding the infrastructure and buildings in their capitol city, another primary task of the Haitian people is making a meaning out of this experience which allows for both the depth of pain and loss as well as holds space for hope and shared support. 

“Why did this happen?”

Moving out of the psychological and into the purely practical, one reason earthquakes are so devastating in third world countries is that the governments lack resources to enforce building codes.   Thus buildings are often made without any type of reinforcement and so that when a natural disaster occurs, the death toll is astronomical.    

“What can I do?”

Check out this contrast:  Here in Seattle my big challenge right now is figuring out my new Blackberry, while in Haiti survivors are using permanent marker to scrawl the names of the dead on their bodies for identification purposes.   The sheer luck with which we in the developed world are blessed becomes ever more obvious during times like these.  

With greater ability comes greater responsibility.   For this reason it is vital that Americans, even with the economy in shreds, dig deep and give generously to provide relief to the Haitian community. 

In addition to prompting me to make charitable donations to medical relief organizations, the crisis in Haiti reminds me to gratefully pay my taxes this year, mindful that while I may not agree with the exact ways the US government spends each tax dollar, the money I owe helps provide the quality infrastructure that makes this country a winning-lottery-ticket of a place to live. 


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