Antioch University New England’s Disaster Recovery outreach was initiated in spring 2005, soon after the tsunami disaster occurred in Southeast and South Asia. In the summer of 2005, Gargi Roysircar and a team of Antioch University New England students traveled to India to engage in tsunami recovery work. While in India, Dr. Roysircar held discussions with social workers and community counselors in Tamilnadu, India, and reached consensus that the name “Shakti,” which means empowerment, was an appropriate way to describe the wellness orientation of the work the team was doing in India.
Disaster Shakti: Shakti means empowerment in several Indian languages. Disaster Shakti is a volunteer team of doctoral clinical psychology students who use their education to reach out to disaster survivors. Trained in multicultural counseling competencies, the team affirms the resilience of survivors and empowers them to take care of their well-being, health and stress management, coping, and problem solving. While participating in the resilience promotion of survivors, clinical students gain experience in social justice outreach.
Disaster Shakti designs and implements social justice outreach to disaster-affected communities. Prior to project implementation, student volunteers engage in discussions regarding the needs of people impacted by disasters. The discussions are related to the culture, social class, race, and resource access of a destroyed community. Training and scholarship provide preparation for a particular project and for outcome assessment.
- Increase knowledge related to the development and prevention of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in communities affected by disasters.
- Increase knowledge related to the effects of culture, ethnicity, race, religion, gender, and socioeconomic status on how communities respond to trauma.
- Engage in multiculturally competent outreach over a multiyear period.
- Collaborate with community leaders, non-governmental agencies, grassroots organizations, universities, or schools in disaster-affected areas and provide assistance in whatever ways needed by stakeholders.
- Design and implement psychoeducational activities that aim to enhance resilience, strength, hope, and recovery.
- Increase knowledge about the mental health and self-care of disaster volunteers through ongoing self-assessment by Shakti team members of their reactions to relief work at disaster sites. Results of self-assessment facilitate Disaster Shakti’s volunteer training, as well as provide useful information on volunteer self-care.
- Disaster Shakti students blog daily journal entries to reflect on their experiences in a disaster site and to bear testimony to the suffering and resilience of survivors. Learn more about the Katrina Recovery Project.
Gargi Roysircar has developed a manual on Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as related to disasters and on relevant psychosocial interventions for children and adults. Disaster Shakti student volunteers use information from this manual to discuss self-help with trauma survivors.
In March 2006 during the spring break, Disaster Shakti engaged in volunteer outreach in New Orleans, Louisiana, and Pass Christian, Mississippi, cites that were destroyed by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. They volunteered with grassroots organizations, Commonground Collective and the Nechama-Jewish Response to Disaster, gutting houses, doing clean-ups, and serving women and children in a women’s shelter. Disaster Shakti collaborated with New Orleans mental health and human resources staff to do six-month debriefing with the staff of a hotel.
In August 2006, Disaster Shakti conducted a successful school supply drive at Antioch University New England for New Orleans school children. They delivered these supplies to Nelson Charter Middle School, where they volunteered for three days. Disaster Shakti volunteers helped teachers to set up their classes and listened to teachers’ stories about their flight, return, and housing difficulties. They phone banked to identify students who would return to school and who would not. They provided handouts to teachers and parents that carried information on children’s stress responses and on play interventions with children that can be carried out by non-professionals. Disaster Shakti did a one-year anniversary review of Katrina recovery experiences with the staff of a hotel.
In order to expand Disaster Shakti’s hurricane recovery outreach, Gargi Roysircar has initiated partnerships with the counselor education programs in University of Florida and University of New Orleans. At the conference of the American Psychological Association in New Orleans in August 2006, Gargi Roysircar held a meeting to discuss the formation of a volunteer organization, called, Counselors and Psychologists for National and International Disasters (CPNID). At this APA conference, Gargi Roysircar and Disaster Shakti held a symposium, entitled, Disaster responses around the world: Social justice efforts.