DSWD volunteers start counseling sessions for Sendong victims in CDO

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/12 January) — The 39 newly-trained volunteers of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) had their baptism of tears Wednesday in the psycho-social process sessions they held for Sendong flood survivors in Barangay Canitoan as part of their practicum.

The sessions were going quiet well in one of the tents set up for the survivors in sitio Calaanan, with a male participant narrating to his group mates  how he managed to survive the onslaught of floodwaters.

But when he uttered the word “kahoy” (tree) a female high school student squatting by the corner of the tent suddenly broke into tears uncontrollably. Jingjing (not her real name) was heaving in between sobs, her eyes started to puff, and she was inconsolable.

One of the volunteers called the attention of Leah Mejias, division chief of the Social Welfare Institutional Development Bureau of DSWD’s national office.

Mejias approached Jingjing, sat by her side and offered some tissue paper and water in a plastic cup. She patiently waited until the girl calmed down, and then led her into another tent where the two of them could be alone.

“Sometimes it takes only one word and a deluge of traumatic memories would overcome a flood survivor,” she explained.

Mejias said the lead agency for the counseling sessions is the Department of Health’s (DOH) Mental Health and Psycho-Social Services (MHPSS).

“Our bureau handles all the trainings for the department. We’ve trained 39 additional staff from different provinces in region 10. What you are seeing now is the practicum of our trainees,” she said in an interview Wednesday.

“The counseling process is designed for adults and young adults for them to ventilate their traumatic experiences by letting them tell their stories, their feelings, reactions and what to them were the effects of the traumatic experience. We let them identify what areas to get them more balanced,” she said.

She said that if the one of the flood survivors gets “hysterical” in the sessions, they would refer him or her to the clinical psychiatrists of the DOH-MHPSS for “identified focused specialized services.”

Although the module is designed for adults, she added, they also have a module prepared for the children survivors but they have decided to focus more on the adults.

“It’s practically the same module but we let the children tell their stories through role-playing and games,” said Mejias.

In an interview, clinical psychiatrist Dr. Nedy Tayag, team leader of the DOH-MHPSS said they have focused on the adults because “children are more resilient in the face of traumatic experiences than adults.”

“What we are focusing on right now is for them to able to voice out their feelings so that these feelings will not bottle up inside them and become hidden or compounded stress of misery,” Tayag said.

She said they are dealing mostly with feelings of “burnout, uselessness, hopelessness” and that these feelings when not properly ventilated would lead to clinical depression.

Along with the mental health professionals, she said they are equipped with the necessary psychiatric medicines if needed.

They will be doing the sessions in batches since Tayag and her team will be leaving on Sunday, and the nurses belonging to the RN-HEALS (registered nurses-health enhancement and local services) will take over.

Casiano Bajao, 56, who used to live in Zone 4, Tibasak, Macasandig said that they found the session “very helpful” in moving on with their lives.

“We were one of the very first beneficiaries of (Mayor Vicente) Emano’s Piso-piso program,” Bajao said.

He said they felt betrayed and left out at first because it took the city a long time to respond but the PSP sessions taught them to go on with their lives.

“This is our new life right here, right now. We will make the most of it. Even though we lost everything we had to the flood, we still have a lot to look forward to,” he said.

Another survivor, Ernesto Mabolo, 35, who used to live at the sandbar Isla de Oro, a geohazard area, now has a small “sari-sari” store in front of their shelter box in Calaanan Tent City.

Mabolo’s concrete house in the sandbar was washed out by the floods. While he and family members were hanging on to an electric post during the height of the floods, they saw people carried by the deluge of mud and water and calling out for help.

“I really wanted to help them but I could not because I’m not a trained at rescuing and feared I might die in the process,” he said slowly with a faraway look in his swelling eyes.

“This is our way of having a semblance of normalcy in our lives. It gives my wife and I some purpose in this new community,” Mabolo, who used to be a construction worker, said.

Meanwhile, Jingjing looked like she was feeling much better and started to smile. She returned to her tent and started to prepare her lunch. (Cong Corrales/MindaNews)