Haiti Healing Arts

A 7.0 magnitude earthquake lasting only about 35 seconds struck Haiti on January 12, 2010 and affected an estimated three million people. Nearly 230,000 were killed, about 300,000 were injured, and more than 1,000,000 became homeless. Significant international efforts are underway to address the physical health needs of Haiti’s children. Yet the mental health needs of child survivors often get too little attention.

Research shows that earthquakes increase the rates of mental health problems in the communities they strike. A series of studies conducted 1 to 4 years after the August 1999 earthquake in Turkey showed that about 40 percent of survivors suffered from PTSD and 20 percent from depression. The effectiveness of art therapy in a post-earthquake setting was demonstrated in a study of twenty-five elementary schoolchildren who were victims of the Los Angeles earthquake in 1994. Art therapy services were found to be instrumental in accessing the children’s internal processes and helping them return to normal functioning.

For the Haiti Healing Arts Program, the ICAF will train and send groups of art therapists to Port au Prince starting in August 2010. Severe cases will be identified for psychological treatment, and the program results will be independently evaluated. An art exchange component will provide schoolchildren in the U.S. an opportunity to view the art of Haiti’s children, who in turn will receive encouragement art from their American counterparts. The program will continue throughout 2010 and beyond, if the necessary funding becomes available.

Haitians are collectively imaginative and artistic. Self-taught artists and their art is found everywhere in the country. Working with Haitian-American professionals, and especially art therapists, the Haiti Healing Arts Program is designed to make a significant difference in the emotional and psychological recovery of Haiti’s children.

The ICAF’s program partners include the Center for Rebuilding Sustainable Communities after Disasters (University of Massachusetts Boston), the International Art Therapy Organization, and BelTiFi (Young Haitian-American Women Empowerment Network).

The ICAF is making available free-of-charge its Guidelines for any person currently working with children in Haiti or planning to do so.

The ICAF Guidelines:
Useful Materials: