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Editorial | Island Voices

Emotional impacts from flood, lava disasters require community care

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    Volunteers and evacuees filled the Pu‘uhonua o Puna community support center in Pahoa on May 12.

The recent Kauai flooding and Big Island volcanic activity are affecting families not only in terms of their housing and property needs, but also through lingering emotional reactions for all ages. These aftershocks of the events are real and normal and can require time to process, and sometimes a helping hand of support.

As a recent Honolulu Star-Advertiser editorial noted (“Show aloha to volcano victims,” Our View, May 8), our community has come together for relief efforts, large and small, to help families affected by the volcano activity on the Big Island, as well as those who lost homes and property in the Kauai flooding last month.

Community care in the short- and longer-term will be needed as well for emotional support, as families struggle to process and to recover from the effects of these two events. A Big Island resident described the experience as being on an emotional roller coaster.

For adults, the sudden loss of items dear to them and homes damaged by the flooding and volcano, have shaken the very foundations of their lives. For children, there may be fear and apprehension about what has happened, and about what may come. These feelings may be true not only for children directly affected in the Hanalei and Puna area communities, but also for keiki on other islands who have read or heard about the recent events.

After a disaster or traumatic event, especially ones of this magnitude, it is important for families to take care of their emotional health, and to pay attention to how family members, especially children, are feeling and acting.

To help those who are having a hard time coping with the impacts of these events, Child & Family Service (CFS) is providing free, one-on-one counseling services to island families. We are very grateful for the community partnerships that are making this possible.

On Kauai, funding for counseling is being provided through the Hawaii Community Foundation Kauai Relief and Recovery Fund. On the Big Island, First Hawaiian Bank, along with a private donor, is providing vital funding to help families in greatest need with housing support and tangible needs as well as counseling services.

Counseling services through CFS as well as other community providers, many of whom are volunteering their time even though they themselves have been affected by the flood and lava, can help parents to identify signs of the effects of trauma. Those include changes in sleeping and eating patterns, and ways to help them that include keeping normal routines or making new ones together. Helping children to talk about their feelings and reassuring them about their safety are important at this time.

Our kupuna also deserve our attention and support to help them to process the events and to have a support system in place. Adults, as well, should make time to unwind and connect with supports such as friends, families and community services.

Give yourself and your children time to heal from the experience. There is no right or wrong way to respond. Over time, family members should see a reduction in the overwhelming feelings. If further assistance is needed, coordinated resources of public and community agencies working together can provide support, and hope, for families as they work toward recovery. We’re all in this together.

Karen Tan is president and CEO of Child & Family Service.

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