Soulaje Lespri Moun Presents at the American Psychological Association Convention in DC


Roger Noel and Jacques Solon Jean of the Soulaje Lespri Moun Project at the APA Convention in DC

by Leah James

In early August, Roger Noel and Jacques Solon Jean joined me (Leah James) in Washington DC to give a presentation at the Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association. Our talk focused on the development, implementation, and evaluation of Soulaje Lespri Moun (SLM – Relief for the Spirit), a lay mental health worker project housed by the AFD.  Roger, the project manager, Solon, the project psychologist, and I have worked closely over the past year and a half with a dedicated team of Ajan Sante Mantal (lay mental health workers) to provide coping skills seminars for residents of camps for internally displaced peoples (IDP camps) in Port-au-Prince.  The Ajan have worked in 7 camps, with nearly a thousand residents, providing education about natural disaster safety and common responses to stress and trauma, and teaching relaxation techniques and other coping strategies. Participants in the seminars are given exams, and if they pass, receive certificates. They are then prepared to run their own support groups for other camp residents. This model allow for time- and cost-efficient dissemination of information.   We have also found that for camp residents to re-engage with their own stressful and traumatizing situation with new skills and in a helping role has therapeutic properties in itself.

Roger and Solon working with a group of camp residence at Carradeux

Our presentation was very well-received, and we met many interested and enthusiastic people. Although thirteen thousand people from all over the world attended the conference, Roger and Solon were the only attendees from Haiti and were honored to represent their country and the AFD. They were always surrounded by curious people asking them about their experiences and expertise. In addition to our main presentation, we were also asked to give a conversation hour for Division 56 (the trauma division) of the APA. Roger and Solon had been awarded funding from Division 56 and from the APA’s International Office – we were very thankful for their support and warm reception. We now have many new friends and collaborators, including two Haitian-American doctoral students.

The trip was not entirely business – this was Roger and Solon’s first visit to the US, so we were sure to do plenty of sightseeing as well. We visited the White House, the Washington Monument, the Natural History museum, saw a 3-D showing of Captain America, and ate as many different kinds of food as we could find. Solon’s favorite was burritos, while Roger liked sushi and Ethiopian food.  A successful trip on all accounts!

Note: Presentations about SLM have also been accepted at the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS) in Baltimore and the Caribbean Regional Conference of Psychology in the Bahamas, both in November 2011.

Jacques Solon Jean, Roger Noel, and Leah James at the APA Convention in DC


Relief for the Spirit

AFD Lay Mental Health Workers lead a workshop at a camp in Tabarre

Aristide Foundation Lay Mental Health Workers Lead Workshops in the Camps

Four months after January 12 the experience of that day — the terror and the losses — remain vivid and present in the minds of all Haitians who survived the quake.   Nearly everyone has some degree of post-traumatic stress with hyper-vigilance, startle responses, sleep difficulties, intrusive memories, fear, anxiety, grief, and anger widespread.    Even before the quake Haiti’s mental health structure was nearly non-existent.  Right now for the majority of the population of Port-au-Prince, who are now living in tents in refugee settlements, mental health care is both inaccessible and foreign to their experience.

Beginning in late April the AFD in cooperation with a group of social workers and doctoral students from the University of Michigan began working together to to create a Haitian-model for lay mental health workers to reach people in the camps.  Ten extraordinary young Haitian college students spent a week receiving training from Leah James, a social worker and doctoral candidate at the University of Michigan, and Dr. Todd Favorite and Dr. Mike
Messina, psychologists at the PTSD clinic at the Ann Arbor VA. (Read Leah’s Huffington Post Article Describing the evolution of this project here).

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Helping Heal the Wounds

AFD Mobile School Monitors meet with a social worker from the US to get training and support on how to work with children who have lost their homes and family members in the quake

This week at the AFD in Haiti a delegation from the US, which included Leah James a volunteer social worker from the University of Michigan led a series of trainings and group discussions to help AFD staff, doctors, volunteers and community members begin to talk about, and find ways to cope with, the trauma they have all been through.

The week  began with a large training session for all 102 of the Mobile School monitors.   They  shared the experiences they’ve had thus far working with children in refugee camps across the Port-au-Prince area.  They gained some tools and guidance on how best to support the kids they are working with.  The sessions made use of a Creole language curriculum developed in January for the Miami schools to give teachers there tools and guidance on how to help Haitian children who are suffering after the trauma of the quake and the loss of family members.  

Sessions were so useful, and in such demand we opened them up community members, specifically to parents of the children in the Mobile School project in the refugee camps where the AFD is working.    By Friday over 200 people had participated in these sessions at the Foundation.   Below  a group of women who have lost their homes, and many of whom lost family  members, talk about what they have been through since the quake with a  with a volunteer social worker on a balcony at the Aristide Foundation.