BEREAVEMENT PROGRAMME

Objective
To develop a community response for community bereavement mobilization among the tsunami affected in Tamil Nadu.

Overview
The Bereavement Project which was initiated in Sangath with a group of 13 volunteers did not make much progress, even though in our child and adolescent clinics we often came across issues of grief. While reviewing the lack of response to an exclusive counseling service for people experiencing bereavement, the Sangath team along with our overseas partners concluded that we needed to focus on community awareness. During this period, the tsunami on 26 December 2004 led to death and devastation in south east Asia. The worst affected states in India were Tamil Nadu and Kerala which reported a loss of 10,749 lives with 5,640 reported missing.

During this period, the tsunami on 26 December 2004 led to death and devastation in south east Asia. The worst affected states in India were Tamil Nadu and Kerala which reported a loss of 10,749 lives with 5,640 reported missing.

Sangath along with Sangath UK association (a group of experienced bereavement counselors from the UK) felt the need to help with bereavement issues in these tsunami hit areas. The Rotary Club of Brighton and Hove Breakfast through a donation supported a needs assessment program on the coast of Tamil Nadu. The assessment highlighted the fact that while most psychological interventions focused on fear and trauma, the inconsolable grief of people that hindered psychological rebuilding of lives was rarely being addressed. In May 2005, Jenny Hunt (a palliative social worker and bereavement therapist with 30 years of experience in the field) was provided a small grant by ’Help the Hospices’ (UK) to develop and implement a community mobilization response to grief among the tsunami affected. The Rotary Club of Brighton and Hove Breakfast provided a matching grant to Sangath to support this program.

After preliminary planning and networking it was agreed to begin the program in Nagapattinam district (one of the worst hit in Tamil Nadu). Most people working in the area felt it was too late to deliver any psychological interventions, as it had already been handled by various professionals; the need of the hour was rehabilitation. After a fortnight of consultations with the NGO Coordination and Resource Centre and heads of various local organizations it was decided that work would begin in the village of Tarangambadi, which had experienced a large number of deaths, in partnership with a local NGO. Several families having lost relatives were visited to observe the emotional support offered by the counselors, and visits to schools and children’s centres led to a first hand understanding of the kind of emotional support being provided in these settings.

A bereavement awareness session provided training to 35 counselors of the local NGO. This was followed by a three week mentoring of counselors who were accompanied on their home visits. The visits helped provide appropriate bereavement intervention and support for the counselors. Discussions held with counselors were followed by two supervisory sessions, for 27 counselors each, which included discussions and in-depth reflection on their counseling sessions. Specific training on genograms was provided to facilitate note taking and encourage awareness on including the whole family in their work. We also participated in a session, arranged by the Hope Foundation, another NGO working in the area, for twenty five teachers with students bereaved by the tsunami.

An evaluation of the trainings was done through ’before’ & ’after’ questionnaires, focus group discussions and interviews with the trained counselors at the end of the project. These showed the awareness level of the counselors had improved following the training.

The training helped them realize that grief could last a long time and the bereaved should be made to talk about their loss, specific questions needed to be asked to make them talk. Despite limited funds, time constraints and dependence on translators delaying the process, the program met an existing need which is rarely addressed and showed the importance of such programs in any disaster situation.