Thursday, January 27, 2005

Auschwitz 60 years ago

If you have ``Schindler’s List’’, ``The Pianist’’ or other Holocaust movies in your collection you might like to watch one again today. If you have Holocaust books, behold the photographs or immerse yourself in the survivors’ accounts.

Today is the 60th anniversary of the liberation of prisoners in the German Nazi concentration camps in Auschwitz in Poland.

Thousands will be flocking to Auschwitz today, among them world leaders and monarchs, to remember the more than three million people, the majority of them Jews, who were mass murdered mostly in the gas chambers there and in other death camps in Europe.

The European Jews were the primary victims of the Nazis. According to a Holocaust website, in 1933 nine million Jews lived in the 21 countries of Europe that would be occupied by Germany during World War II. By 1945, two out of every three European Jews had been killed.

But the Jews were not the only group in Hitler’s hate list. So were 500,000 million Gypsies, 250,000 mentally or physically disabled, more than three million Soviet prisoners of war, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, Social Democrats, Communists, partisans, trade unionists and Polish intelligentsia.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Karangalan, gathering time

The boulders in our hearts will quake and break open, the shroud of grief will lift and the sound of wailing will drift away. I make myself say that and believe it will happen indeed.

A terrible season has just passed, a more terrible one we should not expect otherwise we would be mired in grief and hopelessness. But what is hope? It is not hope but mere passive waiting if there is no action, if there is no effort to restore the mountains that collapsed on us, or to find signs of life amidst the flotsam and the jetsam that were swept away and back into our lives. We cannot gripe forever in our comfort zones.

And so we go out and gather, otherwise we scatter.

Did the angels conspire and the gods inspire that now we see people gathering, bothering once again to seek solutions so that this obdurate and benighted nation would move forward and up? Does the Philippines have a future? Does the Philippines have a future with our generation?

The organizers of the Karangalan Conference/Festival ``are confident that the Philippines has a future.’’ When they say future, they mean good, bright.

After a litany of ills, hope comes hurtling: ``Amidst the anger and frustration, there is also the reality of the other Philippines. This is the Philippines of moral strength, courage, vision, initiative, compassion, integrity, political will, socially-oriented businesses, artistic competence, social entrepreneurship, achievement and excellence. It is a reality that is here, right now. It is something not far away but already here in our midst, slowly but surely re-shaping the future of our country for the better.’’ There.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Post-traumatic stress disorder

For those involved in the rescue, relief and rehabilitation operations in the aftermath of the recent series of disasters here and abroad, the realization that the problem is more than material and economic could be daunting. The psychological trauma of survivors could be paralyzing and the effects could be long-lasting if these are not addressed immediately and properly.

The recent killer landslides in our own home ground and the post-Christmas tsunami that killed more than 165,000 people in 11 countries and left millions bereaved and bereft have to mean something and result in something. Otherwise, is it all despair?

Last Monday we wrote about the experiences of a team of clinical psychologists who fanned out to several disaster areas in the aftermath of the 1990 earthquake, the 1991 Mount Pinatubo and 1993 Mayon Volcano eruptions. The team, called HEART (Holistic and Empathetic Approach to Rehabilitation and Training), was composed of Ateneo University masteral and doctoral psychology students led by Dr. Ma. Lourdes A. Carandang, a seasoned clinical psychologist, researcher and author. The effort was funded by Unicef.

One of the fruits of their experiences was the book ``Pakikipagkapwa-Damdamin: Accompanying Survivors of Disasters’’ (Bookmark, 1996). The book is now being updated and redesigned for reprinting. It is a rich source of insights and methodology for those helping survivors to cope with their trauma and find meaning in what is left of their lives. Empowering them is even more daunting. Note that I avoid using the word victim.
That tongue-twister in the title means empathy and more. If sympathy is pakikiramay, empathy goes farther and deeper.

Thursday, January 6, 2005

Poor helping poor

When the poor give to their fellow poor they give of their very substance and in so doing, become materially diminished in a way. There is the Filipino saying ``Isusubo na lang, ibinigay pa.’’ Roughly translated, what one is about to put into one’s mouth, one gives up for someone more needy. Giving even if it hurts--literally. That is often said of mothers of impoverished families.

I am reminded of birds and other wildlife who hunt prey, masticate their catch and then regurgitate the partly digested stuff into the open mouths of their young. You see a lot of these magnificent images on wildlife TV. How literal, how from-the-gut this giving is. But we are not wildlife and as humans we go through a complicated non-gut process in feeding others who are not our own.

Many who have much also give much but they do not hurt as much or may not even hurt at all. Millions of pesos, hundreds of thousands, a few thousands. All that changes are the numbers, not the digits, in the givers’ bank accounts and they may not even notice the change, much less feel it. They will not count the cost. They will still eat their favorite food, ride in one car at a time, fly first class. They are not diminished, nothing of their substance has been given up or taken way. Still, they are to be appreciated. Actress Sandra bullock just donated $1 million to the tsunami victims.

But the poor also give. They may not count the cost but they will certainly feel the cost.