By Sharon Wisch-Ray
The TJP caught up with Miriam Ballin at the home of Amy and Harlan Korenvaes on Thursday, Aug. 31, as Miriam and her team prepared to head to Houston to help Hurricane Harvey survivors both in and out of the Jewish community. Korenvaes accompanied the team to Houston; she is an experienced child trauma worker using “clown” techniques.
The team included Ballin, Dr. Einat Kaufman, Dr. Sharon Slater, Avi Tenenbaum and Dr. Miriam Staub. Their plan was to head straight to the George R. Brown Convention Center, assess the needs and go from there. Everyone on the team is trained in psychological support. In Israel, members of the team handle large-scale crises, but also more intimate ones as well. “We may go to home where an infant has passed away from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, a dad who passed away from a heart attack or God forbid a terrible car accident,” said Ballin. “Unfortunately, suicides are our specialty,” she explained. Because guns are illegal, the team is often faced with helping a family whose loved one has died by hanging.
As she prepared for Houston, Ballin said her biggest concern focused on the flood survivors’ futures.
“What is this gonna do to their life later on? Right now I can’t fix their home for them and I can’t bring their car back and I can’t get them closer to their mom, but what I can do is hold their hand and use the techniques we’ve learned and stabilization procedures.”
The team gives the folks psychoeducational resources and helps normalize their experience in terms of what kinds of feelings they can expect to experience. They help the survivors understand what resources are available in the event that they recognize that they are not doing OK.
As Ballin and her team wrapped up their trip, the TJP had a chance to communicate with her again Tuesday. Baillin gave an overview of what they had accomplished to that point.
In Houston, the team assessed and supported evacuees in various shelters. At the Federation, they supported Jewish families who didn’t want to leave their homes and needed support leaving due to unsanitary conditions.
The psychotrauma unit was on the ground in Port Arthur as folks began to be evacuated. “There were about 100 buses that came in while we were there, full of people. People would get off and go through a process… They went through a security check and they went through medical screening and then they would get all their basic physical needs met and then they would get a psychological assessment by us and psychological support.” The team assessed about 300 evacuees in Port Arthur. From Port Arthur, those evacuees were put straight on an army plane and flown to Dallas.
A couple of days later, the team went to shelters in Dallas to assess and support another 100-150 evacuees who were sheltered here.
“It was interesting to me to see how some people lost everything or felt they had lost everything, yet they had an amazing attitude about it all,” said Ballin. “They were able to encourage others in that position and it was very inspiring. It was also inspiring to see how many people came to help one another.”
There were so many heart-wrenching stories, Ballin explained. “I made sure to debrief my team regularly.”
Ballin said there are things that the average person can do to assist evacuees on a one-to-one basis. “The main thing is to be human beings and not ‘human doings,’” she said. She explained that it’s important to be present for that person wherever they are at emotionally at the time. She stressed the importance of listening and showing empathy.