Providing Psychosocial Support in the Aftermath of Tropical Storm Erika

Image of collapsed house in the aftermath of a natural disaster

August 2015 saw the Commonwealth of Dominica devastated by tropical storm Erika, which left in her wake 30 direct deaths and significant destruction of infrastructure. The Ministry of Social Services, Family and Gender Affairs in Dominica, requested the assistance of the Social Work Unit of the University of the West Indies (UWI). This was facilitated through the Caribbean Internship Programme (CIP), a regional partnership and service-learning initiative of the UWI.  Three graduate interns and a former social work lecturer were deployed to assist with enhancing the response to the challenges associated with post-disaster recovery.

Staff of two social service agencies, two graduate psychology interns and one social work intern, participated in a post disaster community-based psychosocial support workshop conducted by the former social work lecturer. The psychology interns later assisted staff in managing the increased number of trauma cases which turned up at the agency and the social work community-practice intern, replicated the workshops and engaged in other relevant community development activities. The reports from the field  were examined and revealed that this engagement is mutually beneficial in three major ways: 1.) it affords social science students hands on experience with the disaster management and mitigation processes; 2.) it fills an immediate need for appropriate skill sets for community-based psychosocial intervention post disaster and; 3.) it generates new areas of knowledge while enhancing the ability of local agencies to adequately respond to the full range of disaster outcomes at the individual, community and national levels.

Natural hazards such as storms, earthquakes and hurricanes are part of the reality for Caribbean communities. Therefore, the analysis of these experiences can aid with developing appropriate training curricula for practitioners and generate a framework for use with disaster mitigation in the Caribbean.

Aldene Shillingford MSW and Nicola Williams MSW

Department of Sociology, Psychology and Social Work