It is always easier to look at the neighbor and make comments about their history, their needs, and what will fix their problems. Such has been the focus of many in Puerto Rico regarding the immediate psychosocial crisis evolving as a result of the earthquake in Haiti.
Just a week ago, many in Puerto Rico were complaining about the early onset psychosocial crisis in Puerto Rico. Some manifestations of this crisis were (1) the number of schools that have been vandalized, (2) the number of adolescents engaged in violent crimes, and (3) the “back and forth”(tira y jala) between unions and the government. These are all manifestation of behaviors that express the collective feelings of hopelessness and helplessness amongst the people.
The concept of participation is understood to be a continuum. Puerto Ricans have looked at development and resilience building from an optic that everyone is too busy and development initiatives in schools and communities are being conducted by government agencies with little community input or participation. What Puerto Ricans need to reclaim is their role in development of resilience, communities have to be in control of all or most aspects of their development, using government agencies as partners when needed and as it suits their purposes.
To plan for a psychosocial support, Puerto Rico needs a task force spearheaded by the Department of Education and other members of government as needed, community psychologist and social workers, and the faith based community. The plans and actions include the preparation of a systemic response that ensures: that the best care possible to children in schools and their caretakers given the existing resources; plans and actions are fair and transparent; consistent protocols across municipalities that are consistent, and citizens, stakeholders are included and heard. To accomplish this task the legal environment must support efforts to improve the psychosocial environment, and incentives for schools and communities that are caring for the affected children and adolescents should be provided.
The programs must be designed with the expectation that the changes are sustainable economically, environmentally, socially, psychologically and spiritually. There are four indicators to the psychosocial support program proposed herein:
1. Care for each other. All segments of the community (men, women, boys, and girls) perceive that they care for others and others care for them regarding use of community resources, gender relations, valuing and protection of children, well-being of vulnerable persons, and conflict prevention/resolution.
2. Social sustainability. Enhance the capacity within local community organizations to sustain the long term viability and impact of development processes. This capacity is focused on how conditions for social sustainability are created through the character, functioning, resource mobilization, and networking skills of community organizations.
3. Community participation. All segments of the community are engaged in the process (men, women, boys, and girls) and perceive they actively participate in all aspects of their development, with particular focus on program planning, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation.
4. Emergence of hope. All segments of the community (men, women, boys, and girls) perceive and demonstrate hope in their future as perceived in people’s perceptions of the past and the present, attitude towards the future, self-esteem, and spirituality.
The outcome of such a program may be that desired public behaviors can be enhanced by early and sustained school and community engagement in the development of safe school communities. Customized, event-specific communications linked with resilience enhancing psycho educational coping information, and coping strategies that use social networks to cope with fears and loss may serve to increased performance and reduced dependency on limited or non-existent government resources. Creating mechanisms for supporting and conducting bidirectional communications between the citizenry and the education officials can enhance population-level behavioral resilience. It is important to develop a national platform to support resilience and increases hope that can be customized by local communities.
Joseph O. Prewitt Diaz