Last week, I went with a team from the Ateneo de Manila Department of Psychology in response to the psychological needs of our countrymen who were affected by the typhoon and ensuing flood that was Sendong. In coordination with Xavier University, we conducted two 4-hour training sessions attended by volunteers, government workers, and staff of NGO’s who were working with those directly affected by the natural disaster.
At first glance, the situation in northern Mindanao struck me as a disaster that affected practically everyone. From the time we were coordinating our trip, this was the picture painted to me. And true enough, no one was spared among the people living in the areas of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan City, the cities worst hit by the natural calamity. Whereas many were directly affected, losing homes and loved ones, a majority were indirectly affected, being related to or knowing people whose lives will never be the same again. And this impression was confirmed when we began our training sessions by asking our participants to share their stories of their own experiences.
Each one had their own stories to tell. Some stories were about their awakening from ignorance and apathy to realization and involvement. There were many who never thought that such an event could happen in northern Mindanao, the so-called typhoon-free area of the Philippines. And as soon as they learned of the extent of damage that Sendong wrought, they found ways of involving themselves in the relief efforts. There were also stories of helplessness and panic in the midst of the events, such as one who received a phone call in the middle of the night from another who was on top of a three-storey building with flood waters rising fast from the second storey of the same structure.
Soon after one of our training sessions, one participant approached me to thank our team for our efforts. She mentioned how she realized that relief workers also needed to tell their stories. She mentioned the valuable lesson that people working with those directly affected by traumatic events also needed some kind of emotional support.
“Caring for the caregivers” is the phrase we use to call this practice. In fact, this is a need that is often forgotten. When we are giving and caring for others, we often overlook the need to take care of ourselves, if not receive care from others. And yet, only when we feel that we are well are we able to care for others adequately. As emotional and psychological needs may not be as basic as survival needs, providing for such needs entails that one is able to sustain more basic needs first.
And so, if you are taking care of others in one way or another, I wish to ask the following question: How are you taking care of yourself?