Three Months After Hurricane Harvey, the Trauma Is Still Fresh

December 21, 2017

 

It has been three months since Hurricane Harvey slammed into Texas, and those hardest hit are still putting the pieces of their lives back together. For too many, the trauma is far from over. Lisa Szarkowski, UNICEF USA Vice President, Humanitarian Emergencies and Executive Communications, has been spending a lot of time in Houston lately, where UNICEF USA has been distributing educational supplies to damaged schools and organizing counseling sessions to help teachers and students heal. Below, her firsthand account:

Trauma is trauma regardless of your zip code or status, but for those who don't have insurance or relatives with space for them to stay, or money to replace necessities, life after Hurricane Harvey is overwhelming. Poor families have been radically displaced. There is no cushion or savings to make up for lost wages, lost rent money or flooded-out cars. No money for replacement uniforms or school supplies. They are devastated.

Though largely invisible, trauma is as destructive as the floodwater; it can freeze a child's brain.

Though largely invisible, trauma is as destructive as the floodwater; it can freeze a child's brain and keep him/her locked in survival mode for life, stunting brain growth in key areas of functioning. Left untreated, trauma causes lower scores on standardized achievement tests and substantial decreases in IQ, reading achievement and language skills. Traumatized children are 2.5 times more likely to be held back a grade and more likely to be suspended or expelled from school. The correlation between trauma and the school-to-prison pipeline is direct and well-documented.

There are children who become anxious at the first drop of rain. Some curl into fetal positions, other stare out windows, anxiously looking for floodwaters to come.

At a UNICEF USA training session, counselors worked with representatives from 20 schools to learn how they can best support their students whose lives have been turned upside-down by Hurricane Harvey. There are children who become anxious at the first drop of rain. Some curl into fetal positions, others stare out windows, anxiously looking for floodwaters to come, or become so distressed that they have to stop the lesson until the rain stops.

Teachers at the session hugged, cried and took comfort in the opportunity to share their experiences and learn coping skills and tools they can use in their classrooms to help each other, and their students.

Teachers described feeling forgotten and disheartened by an impatient world that doesn't understand why it is still an emergency even though the water has receded.

Many expressed grateful disbelief that UNICEF USA was thinking about their students' abilities to learn in the aftermath of this event. They described feeling forgotten and disheartened by an impatient world that doesn't understand why it is still an emergency even though the water has receded. 

There are kids living in shelters, or sleeping on the floor of a relative's home, with not enough to eat or a place to do homework, living with adults who are constantly stressed about finding jobs, transportation, housing and surviving. They need our help.

 

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Top photo: In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, UNICEF USA President and CEO Caryl M. Stern (far right) travelled to Houston as part of UNICEF USA's efforts to ensure kids affected by the storm could get back to being kids as soon as possible.