And if you're interested, here is the article his university ran on his April trip:
Counseling professor Charlie Myers offers
emotional comfort in quake-ravaged Haiti
May 17, 2010
by Mark McGowan
Charlie Myers didn’t expect to spend his week in Haiti bagging bodies.
He didn’t expect to squeeze the hand of a dying child while he used his other hand to comfort the child’s mother. He didn’t expect to hear a 12-year-old girl, whose father had died in the January earthquake, express a daughter’s love for him and wish aloud that he could become her new dad.
But when those seven emotional days from April 17 to April 24 drew to a close, the professor in NIU’s Department of Counseling, Adult and Higher Education longed to stay amidst the tragedy and sorrow.
Even now, back in the comfort of DeKalb, he hopes to return soon to the devastation.
“When I volunteered to go to Haiti, I hadn’t fully processed that I’d be at a hospital. I wasn’t anticipating the amount of death, or to be so intimately involved,” Myers says. “But we didn’t want to leave. The good we know we were doing there and the appreciation the Haitian people had for us were just incredible. We’re making such a profound difference.”
Sometimes, though, he admits it was hard to tell.
More than 230,000 Haitians have died since the earthquake that injured 300,000 others. As many as 250,000 houses and 30,000 businesses were destroyed. A million residents are homeless.
In the two M.A.S.H.-like hospital tents where Myers and others in his Project Medishare team worked, eight Haitians died during that one week. Two were children. Four were babies.
And, more than three months after the natural disaster, unimaginable injuries and illness remain. Broken bones. Amputations. Severe burns. Infections. Malaria. Meningitis. Hydrocephalus.
There was some joy, but it came coupled with sadness.
Ten babies were born during that week, three on the first night. Two of those were twins, born to the widowed mother of the 12-year-old girl who became Myers’ shadow. The mother, still mourning her husband, refused to acknowledge the babies or nurse them. She wouldn’t give them names; in Haiti, that’s the father’s responsibility.
By week’s end, Myers saw a glimmer of some bonding but nothing definite. “I’m hoping she’s changed her mind,” he says now.
Myers heard of this opportunity one week after the quake from NIU colleague Deb Pender, who specializes in crisis counseling, and was among 1,000 who applied immediately.
He previously had volunteered his services at a refugee center in Dallas where some evacuees of Hurricane Katrina were brought, although the conditions there were starkly different from those he found in Haiti.
Doctors, nurses and mental health professionals on the team agreed to 12-hour shifts, but those never happened. His shortest day clocked in at 16 hours; the longest spanned more than 24 hours as it crossed into the next day.
They grabbed quick naps when they could and watched each other for signs of exhaustion or emotional fatigue. As many as 160 volunteers shared a tent furnished with Army cots and mosquito netting – “160 of my closest friends,” Myers says with a smile – where they enjoyed little chance for modesty regarding dressing and undressing.
Myers provided grief counseling and other emotional support and comfort to patients, their families and the medical staff. The mental health staff debriefed nightly, talking about their feelings and offering support.
His particular area is “play therapy” for children who’ve experienced trauma. The traditional form of counseling, or talk therapy, requires the kind of abstract thinking skills that usually develop during adolescence.
“Children don’t have that ability. They’re concrete thinkers,” says Myers, who came to NIU in the summer of 2008. “Toys are their words. Play is their language.”
So he sits on floors, being with children as they play and communicate subtly, building meaningful relationships with them and developing strong appreciations of their individuality.
In Haiti, someone had donated a small play tent where Myers could take the children when the hospital emergencies temporarily calmed. One child constructed a building of Legos. Another violently shook it apart. “I knew what was going on,” Myers said. “No one needed to translate that.”
The Haitian tongue is French-Creole, which Myers does not speak.
Facial expressions and body language compensate. He holds hands. He hugs. His eyes show compassion, with and without crying.
“I put myself in the place of that mom, just to sit there and be with her so she can have someone and know she’s not alone” he says, recalling the death of the child whose hand he was holding, “As a culture, one thing we Americans are afraid of is touch. But to put a head on a shoulder? To hold a hand? As a therapist, we can’t be stoic. We need to show we care. When I held that baby, there were tears in my eyes. That mother could see that I was touched.”
Myers already has brought his experience to the NIU classroom.
Students are learning of the warmth, spirit and resiliency of the Haitian people. They’re also hearing about the delicate balance of putting their feelings aside while still practicing empathy and sympathy – and of the critical necessity of “me” time during times of crisis.
“We have to take a break. We’re human,” he says, paraphrasing words written by one his students for a class essay, “and being human is the only way to be a counselor.”
And perhaps, Myers says, they will come to understand the importance of simply being there when someone breathes their last.
“The idea of dying alone, to me, seems so hollow,” he says. “It was good to come home – to my colleagues, to my classes – but I want to go back.”