A major earthquake of 7.8 magnitude on the Richter’s Scale devastated parts of Nepal on 25th April 2015 and led to the death of nearly 10, 000 persons.
Another major earthquake of 7.3 magnitude two weeks later on 12th May caused further destruction and loss of lives and added to the feelings of horror and helplessness.
In between these two major earthquakes the earth continued to shake from time to time prolonging the fear and dread.
The Catholic Health Association of India (CHAI) sent in groups of volunteers to offer material and medical help to those affected soon after the first quake.
On request from St. Xavier’s college and schools in Kathmandu CHAI also organized Workshops to offer psychological relief for trauma. Since I had some expertise in working with trauma survivors I was invited to facilitate these workshops.
I reached Kathmandu on the 23rd morning. I noticed that the city had been spared from destruction. I did not see any collapsed buildings in the city. However, some people were still sleeping in tents outside at night, fearful of houses collapsing.
I was told some villages had suffered 100% destruction of buildings. There was dire need for food, shelter and medicines. Many NGOs, including the Nepal Don Bosco Society, were involved in relief work.
The first psychological trauma workshop was held at St. Xavier’s school, Jawalakhel, Kathmandu, on 23-24 May. There were about 170 teachers from St. Xavier’s, St. Mary’s and another school.
Only one of the buildings at St. Xavier’s had been damaged and required retrofitting. But fear was among the teachers and some of them had requested the sessions be held in the open! However, we had the sessions in the Hall which was very sturdy and declared fit by the government agencies.
The second Workshop was held at St. Xavier’s school, Godavari, Kathmandu on 25th May. There were about 60 teachers from three different schools. St. Xavier’s Godavari is set in very beautiful surroundings. One of the buildings there was the summer palace of a former King.
Seven buildings on the site including the former palace suffered enormous damage and are declared unusable.
The last Workshop was held at St. Xavier’s College, Maitrighar, Khathmandu on 26-27 May. There were some 150 teachers from the college and from two schools.
The purpose of the trauma Workshops was first to help the teachers to understand and recover from their own trauma and secondly to help them learn ways they could assist the students.
Many of the participants themselves were highly traumatized. Even though they had survived the earthquake, they were suffering especially from the terror of their vulnerability, the dread of imminent death they experienced while they were within the buildings that were swaying massively, accompanied by dreadful noise of crushing debris and falling trees.
Even a month after the earthquake some of them were sleeping outside in the open although their houses were not damaged.
Traumatic consequences for them included especially intrusive re-experiencing of the trauma, with accompanying hyper-arousal, the body ever alert to possible threat, as well as sense of loss and grief.
They were also anxious how they would deal with their students who were traumatized. Most of the students were from the villages that had experienced massive destruction. They would also be suffering from psychological trauma.
In this context the content of the Workshops focused on the following: Some observations on trauma and its manifestations and some helpful interventions to recover from the trauma.
The method followed in the Workshop was experiential. After the explanations and the demonstration of interventions, participants had the opportunity to apply the interventions to themselves and experience their efficacy. They could later use them with their students and others in need of psychological help.
Participants were also provided Handouts that described psychological trauma, its effects and some simple yet effective interventions that could be used to recover from trauma.
Most of the interventions used were bio-energetic (body based methods) which could help survivors to bring down their hyper-arousal levels and find relief from stress and pent up emotions.
Participants found the Workshops personally and professionally helpful. They were able to understand their own experiences and find relief for personal distress. They felt less anxious and more confident of facing their students and offering them psychological help when the schools and colleges reopen on May 31st.
There were two positive effects of the earthquake that many of the participants reported. They were immensely grateful that they survived and gained a greater appreciation for the preciousness and fragility of life.
Secondly, the earthquake and its aftermath brought a greater sense of solidarity and fraternity among the people. I was told that neighbours who were not even talking to one another were now helping one another and reaching out together to help the more needy survivors. There is a strong desire among them to make their contribution toward rebuilding the nation after the devastation.