For many teachers, the emotional scars of Hurricane Matthew have yet to heal, which is why an international solidarity programme has helped to provide support to their colleagues who need it the most.
Construction of a psychosocial support network
At the initiative of the Union Nationale des Normalien(ne)s et des Educateurs/trices d’Haïti(UNNOEH) and the Fédération Nationale des Travailleurs en Education et en Culture(FENATEC), affiliated to Education International (EI), 600 education professionals have attended a psychosocial support training seminar, 150 in each of the four Haitian regions most affected by the natural disaster of October 2016, namely Nippes, the South, Grande-Anse and the North-West. The seminar was part of a project launched by the unions, coordinated by EI, and with the financial backing of the Canadian Teachers' Federation (CTF).
The project aimed at providing psychosocial support to teachers in the departments most affected by cyclone Matthew, training an intervention unit to assist and/or train other teachers before and after natural disasters, and to help the teachers in these regions to regain confidence.
The training sessions are planned and presented by a team of six psychologists. Some of the topics covered include defining the overall concept of a disaster, psycho-social support, stress managements, practical advice for overcoming grief, the importance of developing resilience, the support relationship for students, and stress among children.
Psychologist and union trainer on psychosocial support, Wesly François, says that when it comes to trauma there are many diverse demands. These are mainly linked to grief, related to loss of life, livestock and finances, including the destruction of homes, and often lead to the abuse of psychoactive substances, such as alcohol and tobacco. He says that teachers believe that they have been abandoned after the hurricane, only adding to post-traumatic stress.
FENATEC: enabling "teachers to continue with their lives"
According to FENATEC President René Prévil Joseph, these types of activities are very important in order to help “teachers find the necessary motivation to complete their mission, which involves guiding students”. He believes that “teachers must be psychologically sound in order to better be able to guide students”.
He emphasised the fact that the psychologists provide guidance to teachers and help them to express the trauma they experienced during the hurricane, as well as their pain in being faced with material difficulties. Thepsychologists also help the teachers develop ways to care for their students who were also victims of the hurricane.
UNNOEH: call for the Minister to “follow suit”
By drawing attention to the education ministry’s failure to provide teachers with emotional support, the UNNOEH General Coordinator Georges Wilbert Franck spoke of the “merits” of this initiative.
He noted that with teachers’ satisfaction with the level of training and their support for the need to intervene in this area, Wilbert Franck emphasized that unions are better placed to provide psycho-social support, which should “alert” the minister of education and ensure that he "follows suit".
Although the UNNOEH and the FENATEC have been working together since 2010 on joint initiatives, they are still getting used to managing a project with such high stakes, and they agreed on the need to “strengthen our structures and pool our abilities in the field”.
Training that needs to be expanded and completed
For the next stage of the project, training sessions will be expanded. It is foreseen that 30 people from each of the four regions already receiving initial psychosocial training will be selected on the basis of their skills and leadership. “It will be necessary to identify leaders with a desire to train a team in each region,” said Prévil Joseph, adding that “with this pool of people, we will endeavour to conduct prevention activities with the children and teachers not present during the first training”.
Those chosen will be part of a network tasked with training a team in each region to speak to students, parents and members of the education community who continue to suffer post-traumatic stress.