Barbudans still licking their wounds; trauma lives on as recovery crawls

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By Latrishka Thomas

Fifty percent of Barbudans are struggling with psycho-social issues due to the traumatic events of 2017 when Hurricane Irma tore the island apart.

This is according to Pastor Clifton Francois of the Barbuda Channel, who a few weeks ago, told participants of the Association of Caribbean Media Workers and the UNICEF workshop, that more needs to be done to address the lingering post-traumatic issues that affect adults and children.

“When we came back here [to Barbuda] the following Wednesday, water was still on the ground, the place was stink; we could not have stayed here, but I don’t think enough was done in regards to counselling. I still think that if you should run a survey, fifty percent of Barbudans need counselling,” Francios shared as he spoke to media workers who visited Barbuda for the second day of ‘Children in the Face of Disaster’ media workshop in early October.

Francois told the media practitioners his story about having had to use his studio as a last-minute shelter during the hurricane.

He said that more needed to done to ensure that psych-social support is available and accessible to those who experienced the wrath of the Category 5 hurricane.

According to him, the traumatic experience still weighs heavy on the residents especially during rainstorms and dark nights – a major reason why some  Barbudans still refuse to return to the recovering island.

He said: “Up to today, if it gets too dark, some folks are scared. I don’t think enough was done in that area.”

Emotional and psychological trauma is the result of extraordinarily stressful events that shatter one’s sense of security, making one feel helpless in a dangerous world.

While traumatic events can happen to anyone, they have an even greater impact on children.

John Mussington, the principal of the Sir McChesney George Secondary School in Barbuda, highlighted the impact of Hurricane Irma on the children of Barbuda.

“… You have to bear in mind that you have to show a good face; you have to give that support to people and especially children. Because more than anything else in a time like that, you have to be mindful that what they are experiencing can be devastating for them on so many different levels. And it’s critical that you provide that support,” he shared at the workshop.

He said that keeping children active in the rebuilding process was an excellent coping mechanism.

“One of the things that I have found that worked very well for us is that if you let them be active, and especially active in fixing what is wrong, that in itself is a therapy that you cannot replace by anything else,” he added.

In addition, Alma Jenkins-Acosta, an emergency consultant for UNICEF who assisted at some of the shelters after the hurricane, said that “some of the things that we initially saw at the shelter was that there was a lot of comfort feeding. Children were constantly eating one thing or another to deal with the feelings of anxiety.”

Her suggestion was for persons to openly talk about and express the emotions, rather than suppressing them.

Meanwhile, Mussington said that evacuating the children had its downsides.

He said: “There is need for that to happen, that persons put things back together for themselves where they are. It does wonders because one … downside of our particular situation is that there was an evacuation.

“Persons were taken out of Barbuda. For many of us, we said okay, that’s just for a couple days, let me go and then we will return and start rebuilding. That did not happen. So, we were placed in a situation where you have another trauma on top of you, because being in places that are familiar to you, with people who are familiar to you, is one thing – it helps.

“But then, being thrown in a total situation which is completely foreign. And then added to that, not having information as to what is happening, and not having any input in terms of doing something to help your circumstances. It’s something which I understand is done in concentration camps; when you want to get to people psychologically, you do that to them.”

Winds of up to 185 mph battered Barbuda, destroying practically everything on the night of September 6th 2017.

Since then, recovery has been noticeably slow. In fact, a number of Barbudans are still living in tents.

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