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Social services treat 500 survivors

By Fili Sagapolutele PAGO PAGO, American Samoa, (Samoa News, Sept. 27, 2010) - The Aapa Atu (Reach-Out) counseling program has provided counseling service to some 500 local residents traumatized by last September’s disaster and they are continuing to work with these individuals as the one-year anniversary approaches.

"The concern now is that memories of the disaster will be triggered when bells ring," said counselor Tumuatasi Malepeai, referring to the plan to ring bells simultaneously in the territory on Sept. 29 as part of the one-year anniversary.

"And if residents still have these lingering problems, we provide them with coping skills to practice," Malepeai noted.

He said what is also important is that these individuals be with their families and "have a support system around them."

"We have been able to counsel more than 500 local residents, who were traumatized due to the disaster," said counselor Malepeai, who added that many of these individuals are older adults, even some senior citizens.

Samoa News has spoken to people who are still awakened by a loud roar, or a big boom, thinking that is another tsunami. Malepeai said that individuals still facing these issues should contact Aapa Atu and this should also be done if residents are not comfortable with the ringing of bells.

"There is still help available to residents and we are here to provide this important service," he said in a telephone interview last week. He said the majority of residents who have received counseling are doing okay and their lives have returned to normal.

"However, if there are still lingering affects, please let us know," he said adding that counselors also continue to follow up with current cases to ensure they are doing well. "We work with residents telling them that if certain things happen, not to worry."

Such things from everyday life include thunder, bells ringing for church service or daily curfew and emergency sirens from a passing police car or ambulance, said a social service worker familiar with these types of cases, where individuals face recurring memories of a bad event.

Taitasi Fitiao, who lost her six year old daughter, and was also seriously injured during the tsunami, said she is thankful to the service provided by Aapa Atu, which has given her comfort and help to deal with what she encountered.

Tsunami survivor Felita To’a said he still has a lot of bad memories of the tsunami and was able to get counseling which helped him deal with the aftermath of the disaster that claimed the lives of two relatives.

An important target group for Aapa Atu are students, and Malepeai said they have reached out and counseled some 100 youngsters, and gone to schools in areas affected by the tsunami.

"We have special skills to deal with our young children, such as organizing activities and asking them to draw pictures on what they feel and what they faced on that day. We then implement procedures to help them along," he said.

"Mostly students fear that their parents are not there for them and they are afraid that another tsunami is coming," he explained.

A mother in Afao said these counseling services have helped her three children, who were at the Alataua Lua Elementary School when the tsunami hit the shoreline village. She said her seven year old daughter "still has nightmares to this day of how she saw the wave coming toward her school."

Anyone in need of help please contact Aapa Atu at 633-3810.

In tomorrow’s paper, Samoa News will include a Special Edition, marking the one-year anniversary of the tsunami -- bearing witness to the Territory’s Community Spirit that continues to bind us together.

In honor of the victims and to remember the survivors and the many people of the territory affected by the worst disaster in the territory’s history, Samoa News will not publish on Wednesday, Sept. 29. We will return on Thursday, Sept. 30.

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