Fred Jacob

Who, after the raging and thunder,
will sing a lullaby to quiet you,
to rekindle your faith,
to let you rise above the leafy hills
and make out the horizon.–from “Lullaby for a Country Flooded in Tears,” by Gioconda Belli, Nicaraguan poet

The weeds have begun to make inroads in conquering the tons of mud that cover the ground in the area around Villa Nueva, and I have seen signs of crop planting in areas that were least damaged. In what is normally a brown and dry landscape this time of year, there are small oases of green plots of corn and beans struggling to survive. Ironically, the ground is still saturated with water from the rains of Mitch, so farmers are attempting to grow crops at a time when the climate doesn’t usually cooperate.

Emotionally, I continue to go up and down. The energy that was around to keep everyone going in the early days of tragedy has been pretty much decimated. Those who are continuing the work with the hurricane-affected people search for strength from whatever source. I seem to be looking for a stimulus to replace the energy that I previously drew my stamina from, that earlier on in the hurricane relief work was palpable and more evident.

So to confuse and tire my inner demons, I am working in Villa Nueva in coordination with three Nicaraguan psychologists. We met informally two weeks ago and discussed work they had been involved with that dealt with the emotional health of hurricane-affected people. I mentioned my desire to assist in implementing the same type of mental health assistance in Villa Nueva, where I was immediately after the hurricane, so we formed an alliance. They have offered to work voluntarily with people suffering emotional trauma, and my organization, TASCA, is volunteering to assist with coordination, transportation, and covering their expenses.

The timing for everyone on this project is excellent. We interviewed with the local health center authorities and were apprised of a mental health program that the ministry of health is currently coordinating. The Nicaraguan psychiatrist in charge of this program was delighted to have experienced psychologists at hand to assist her in this joint effort to reach the most severely affected victims of Hurricane Mitch, so she invited us to join the program.

This program has prioritized the areas where there was the most damage to life and property, and will train local health providers in the basics of identifying emotional trauma. The health workers will be taught basic skills in how to deal with trauma, how to form self-help groups in listening and responding, and how to identify people who need individual professional assistance. The TASCA-supported psychologists will teach these workshops, as well as do private consultations for the victims needing personal attention.

This trip to Villa Nueva was much faster and less brutal than those I’d made just a few weeks ago. The roads, which have been a constant horror to drive on, are being repaired at a surprisingly rapid rate. The French medical teams that I worked with in November still maintain a presence here in Villa Nueva, coordinating with the mayor’s office and the health ministry. They are involved in supporting the restoration of water systems, eradicating the dead animals, vaccinating the populace, providing hammocks and mosquito nets, and supplying portable tanks for drinking water.

Things seem to be heading back to some sense of normalcy, but I fear that that sense will be challenged when we move on to our next appointment in the worst Central American disaster to take place in many years–the destruction of Posoltega.

Next: Posoltega, where 2,600 lost their lives.