On Saturday July 30th we attended the afternoon sessions of the International Conference on Tsunami, Disaster Management, and Coastal Development. It was a two-day conference held at Taj Coromandel Hotel, Chennai, by the Madras Development Society, a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO). The organizers allowed us in without requiring registration, which was very generous of them. The main theme of the conference was how to reduce the impact of natural disasters (tsunami, earthquakes, cyclones, droughts, extreme rainfall) with disaster preparedness and management. We attended sessions on warning systems, surface-level water control, coastal management, meteorological observations, building codes, etc. Gargi liked the scientific information. She was nostalgic about meeting meteorologists from the India Meteorological Department, where her father had served as the director when she and her parents lived in Chennai. The meteorologists remembered her father or had heard about him. The conference information, however, did not increase our knowledge about post-disaster mental health. We found our need fulfilled, however, in our meetings with Professor Thiru, M.D., the chair of the Department of Psychiatry at Stanley Medical College; Mr. Uli, a German psychotherapist in Auroville (near Pondicherry) who works in an interdisciplinary team of help providers, Mr. S. Ramachandran, the director of social welfare in the State of Tamil Nadu; and Mr. S. Thomas, the UNICEF project manager for child protection. Dr. Thiru’s lectures on tsunami-related stress presentations, mental health, and mental health promotion will be included in our revised PTSD prevention manual.
Our meeting on August 6th with Mr. S. Ramachandran and Mr. S. Thomas was arranged by government contacts. Gargi wanted to find out about the government’s tsunami relief work since we had become familiar with the efforts of NGOs (e.g., Seva Bharathi Tamil Nadu, Project Concern International, Auroville). The host family introduced us to Mr. K. Gnanydesican, the Secretary of Finance, one of the highest-ranking government officials in Tamil Nadu. Mr. Gnanydescian and the Under Secretary Mr. Ashish Vachhani made a few phone calls at our August 4th meeting with them, and lo and behold we had appointments the next two days (August 5th and 6th) with government officials involved in tsunami relief. An interesting, happy discovery was that the government has a stronger psychological approach than the NGOs. The government is working with the World Health Organization and UNICEF to develop and implement psychosocial outreach programs in fishing villages and workshops on training of trainers who are local community stakeholders. Mr. Ramachandran, Professor Thiru, and Mr. Thomas attended a recent WHO conference in Chennia (the day we were at Auroville visiting relief efforts there) which assessed current community outreach activities, as well as proposed objectives and goals for long-term mental healthcare for children and women tsunami survivors. The WHO/UNICEF/Government conference on human services was quite different from the scientific Disaster Management Conference of the Madras Development Society. The good thing is that various effects of a natural disaster (geographic, infrastructure, and human suffering) are being addressed by different organizations with different expertise.
Mr. S. Ramachandran, the director of social service, spoke about the government’s goals for long-term care by using local community workers/collaborators, NGOs, and UNICEF, and by providing workshops and refresher courses on the training of trainers. Mr. S. Thomas of UNICEF described after school programming involving games, art, puppet shows, and drama. The UNICEF child protection activities come close to our line of thinking about play activities, activism, and providing access to the underserved and less privileged. Mr. Ramachandran gave us the WHO training manual, the government’s goal statements and objectives, and various other documents. The WHO document complements our own manual, copies of which, including CDs, we gave Mr. Ramachandran and Mr. Thomas. Mr. Ramachandran inquired about the concept of somatization disorder, which he found in our manual. Gargi was happy to explain how people could present somatic symptom in response to a traumatic event or other stresses. Mr. Ramachandran sent a staff member with us to locate a copy center, so that we could copy his original materials. We’ll read the government, WHO, and UNICEF materials and integrate these into our revised PTSD prevention manual.
Tomorrow (August 6th), we are going to Cuddalore to see the government’s physical and psychosocial relief work.
Gargi Roysircar, Linda Lee, Kristen Robinson, and Michiko Ishibashi Antiochians in Chennai