Removing debris after Hurricane Harvey
Community Suffers Emotional Trauma
Category 4 Hurricane Harvey hit the coast of Texas on Friday, August 25, 2017. By Wednesday, some areas had received over 47 inches of rain and flooding, and by Thursday, August 31, 2017, the storm had killed at least 44 people and damaged or destroyed 48,700 homes. 350,000 people, many uninsured, have registered for disaster assistance.
For many survivors, the fear, trauma, and loss experienced during Hurricane Harvey will result in emotional scars that may last for years to come. Long after the water has receded and homes have been rebuilt, the stress and anxiety that accompany disasters of this size and scope will remain. Research indicates that suicide rates, substance abuse, and violence frequently increase in the aftermath of community-wide disasters. Putting life back together in the form of a “new normal” is an emotionally overwhelming process. Our project focuses on communities in the affected areas to help minimize the “disaster after the disaster” and get community members back on their feet.
Healing the Whole Person
Real Medicine Foundation is an international NGO with an excellent track record in psychological trauma support. We believe that “real medicine” focuses on treating the person as a whole, providing medical/physical, emotional, social, and economic support. To care for victims of Hurricane Harvey, we are collaborating with Organizational Resilience International (a partner since Hurricane Katrina) to implement a 3-phase psychological support project for Hurricane Harvey victims in the Houston area.
Since December 2017, our team has been speaking with clergy members from across the Greater Houston area to identify and assess their needs regarding how to support both church and community members in the wake of the September disaster. From January to February 2018, we provided over 70 clergy members and lay leaders with training designed to assist in understanding the impact of traumatic events and to promote the identification of strategies for self-care among caregivers. These clergy members and lay leaders will now pass their learning on to their congregations and communities through sermons, individual pastoral counseling, and ministry, thereby broadening the program’s overall impact to thousands of people.
Communities in Recovery
One year after Hurricane Harvey wreaked havoc in Texas and Louisiana, many communities are still struggling to recover as the next hurricane season has begun. Bloomberg reports that in Texas as of June 1, 2018, “more than one-third of the expected $695 million [in federal aid] is still outstanding.” Delays can cause strain on local governments and citizens, who must use emergency funds and borrow money for repairs, leaving cities and families more vulnerable in the face of possible new storms.
While communities are still recovering from the physical effects of Hurricane Harvey, the psychological effects of the disaster are often overlooked. Whether families stay in their damaged homes or relocate, feelings of anxiety, depression, or disorientation often persist. In a July 31, 2018 interview with Voice of America, a young mother in Houston’s Bear Creek Village neighborhood said of the storm damage still visible in the area, “It just hits you. It’s like a slap in the face every single time. It’s like it doesn’t end, like the hurricane is just continuing.” The family is still working to repair their home, but many neighbors have chosen to move. Real Medicine Foundation hopes to hold additional counseling and training sessions for caregivers and community leaders in the Houston area, helping residents to navigate the psychological strain of long-term disaster recovery.