Tsunami Hits Samoa
Imagine what it would be like for a moment that in one instant you are enjoying life, surrounded by family and friends, those people who are most important to you in life, and then in the next moment, without warning, half of those people around you are now dead. What would it be like for you to watch all your children being swept out to sea and you can do nothing about it? How would you feel if within the space of two minutes you lost your spouse or both your parents and two siblings? What impact would that have on you and your life?
On September 29, 2009, that very scenario played out in the coastal villages of Samoa. 170 people lost their lives without warning when an 8.3-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Samoa, causing a massive Tsunami that wreaked havoc on coastal villages and left a Nation in grief and severely traumatized. It has been reported that some people have lost as many as 7-8 people from their immediate families.
Even months later the nightmare for the Samoan people was far from over as scattered families attempted to come to terms with their losses and begin to try and rebuild their lives. While the estimated financial damage has been placed in excess of over $130 million NZ dollars, the damage that this has caused families and individuals mentally and emotionally will never be able to be fully estimated or understood.
At the invitation of the Samoan Ministry of Health, our New Zealand team of NLP therapists travelled to Samoa on 25 February 2010 on a voluntary basis, for seven days to train local mental health workers and counsellors, and work one-on-one with those requiring help, following the tsunami.
The trip to Samoa began with our Principal Trainer, Dr Richard Bolstad running a three day training course inApia, supported by six Trauma Recovery Team members. The course was opened on day one by the Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Aiono Sailele Malielegoai, welcoming the team and talking about how important the skills people are learning on the training are going to be for what he called re-building people’s minds to enable them to rebuild communities inSamoa.
Participant numbers were even higher than expected with 37 participants representative of a range of community and government organisations including Samoa Lifeline, Ministry of Police & Prisons, Fire Service, Samoan Victim Support, Mental Health Service, UNESCO, United Nations Development Programme and others.
The course was essentially for those who are in first responder roles dealing with trauma victims such as the Police who went to the tsunami area immediately after. These people are at a high risk of being traumatised themselves and so to learn the process in our course and be able to change and heal their own trauma responses, was very powerful for the participants.
Following the training, the team supervised and supported the qualified participants over the next two days in the field to help them integrate their skills and gain confidence as well as running a workshop for UN disaster-response teams.
The trip to Samoa was done on a voluntary basis. The practitioners who participated in the Samoa project were:
Dr. Richard Bolstad
A special thanks goes to those in the NLP community and beyond for the additional support and advice for this project.
The Independent state of Samoa is a postcard of natural beauty that consists of two main islands, Savaii and Upolu and two small islands, Apolima and Manono, plus five uninhabited islands.
Located on the westerly end of the Samoa Archipelago, it is halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand. The capital, Apia, lies on the beautiful north coast of Upolu, the largest and most populous of the country’s nine islands.
It is a visually stunning country that ranges from the rainforest covered volcanic mountain peaks of the two main islands to the vast valleys leading down to crystal clear ocean. The coastline is a wonder in itself, with sparkling white sand beaches, in some places stretching for miles, and here and there are walls of sheer cliffs that drop straight into the Pacific Ocean.
There are also lush green fertile valleys, which within grow banyan trees towering above the rainforest canopy. Cascading waterfalls dropping into rivers that cut jagged lines through the valley floor as they make their way to the ocean.
And beyond the beaches out into the blue lagoons are scattered the rest of the islands that make up the Samoa archipelago, some inhabited, others with only natures wildlife, protected by the fringing coral reef that keep the powerful force of the Pacific Ocean at bay.
Amongst all this natural beauty and picturesque valleys and coastline you will find nu’u or villages with their churches, meeting houses and open fale or homes encircling the malae or village green.
Home to people proud of their strong Fa’a Samoa – cultural heritage – who live along side these natural wonders. For anyone who has travelled there they will know it’s the people, culture and nature that give life to these islands.
Samoa is a traditional society governed by Fa’a Samoa. Fa’a Samoa has three key elements to it – the matai (chiefs), aiga (extended family), and the church. The Fa’a Samoan Culture is over 3000 years old and legends say they descended from the Gods and Heavens to inhabit these islands.
Samoa Tourism Authority www.samoa.travel
Accommodation at Aggie Grey’s www.aggiegreys.com
The Follow Up: Successful 2010 trip
Our purpose for working with the specialist medical and mental health workers was so we could make our work in Samoa sustainable. The techniques taught have been proven to be highly effective in dealing with Trauma and by working with the medical and mental health specialists we believe that the skills we teach will continue to be used and therefore more people who need help can access it. We also wanted to work with individuals who needed immediate therapeutic assistance. As experts in this form of therapeutic treatment we also wanted help as many individuals as we could.
The outcomes of our trip to Samoa were outstanding in the three day training, the in-field support and the one-on-one therapeutic work we did with individuals.
Objective 1 – To work therapeutically with the individuals and families in Samoa who are experiencing any form of grief or post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) so that they can overcome this and begin to rebuild their lives.
Outcome: The team was very happy that they got to do some one on one intervention work with individuals who really needed it. The team worked with many individuals and ran them through the NLP Trauma Process. The team had great successes with individuals and many said they wanted us to come back and help others.
Objective 2 – To train and educate medical staff and mental health workers in the techniques and in field applications of NLP so that these techniques can continue to be used, and become a sustainable long term curative treatment!
Outcome: We completed full three day training in these techniques. As a result of the training we ran for the medical and mental health workers with Dr Richard Bolstad a total of 29 participants were given their certification at the end of the 3 day training. This was a wonderful result. The reason the other people did not get certified is because they could not all be there for the entire three days due to ongoing work commitments
Objective 3 – To provide ongoing support and therapy to medical and mental health workers presently in Samoa requiring personal assistance as a result of what they have experienced.
Outcome: The team has continued to provide ongoing support and therapy to the medical and mental health workers in Samoa. This was done initially face to face while in Samoa and since arriving home it has been continued by telephone conversations and email exchanges. We are currently planning a return trip as soon as possible to continue this support.
Objective 4 – To provide in-field support for the local medical/mental health practitioners who attend our training to ensure the skills they have acquired are embedded and they are confident in their application.
Outcome: We provided a full 2 days in-field support to the participants on the course. This was done by splitting our team of six into 3 teams of two. This enabled us to get to more people and give them the necessary coaching and feedback to continue to build there confidence and competence. The in-field support was a huge help to the participants and it assisted them immensely in their ability to follow through and use the skills taught
Treatment Results in Samoa – 2010
The following is the measurement scale we used to assess the affect the NLP Trauma Process was having on individuals. Each individual was asked which of the following symptoms they had from the list below (based on the DSM IV):
- Repeated, distressing memories or dreams of the event
- Acting or feeling as if the event were still happening
- Intense distress when exposed to images or sounds resembling the event
- Efforts to avoid anything that could remind the person of the event
- Inability to experience a normal range of emotions and interest in life
- Not planning as if life had a future
- Difficulty concentrating or relaxing (especially sleeping)
- Sudden anger and startle responses
Each person was asked to rate their issues / problems on a scale of 1 to10, where 1 is neutral or calm and 10 is the worst they can think of.
They were asked to do this before they did the process then directly after they had completed the process and then again a week later.
The team was able to track success with eleven participants right through to a week’s post-test and the results were exciting and satisfying.