Mission Trips to Help the Victims of Natural Disasters

  • Natural disasters and tragedies can hit us at any time.
  • Those who had a more positive attitude towards life before the war, or who had a strong connection to religion, art, or music, could make sense of their lives even if they had lost everything and everyone.
  • The main aim and focuses are to help these people normalize their lives to such extent that they can live their future peacefully.

Natural disasters and tragedies can hit us at any time. After the earthquake hit the country of Nicaragua in 2016, a 13-year-old was seriously injured when the earthquake buried her and her family under her house. Only she was still alive when help finally arrived. Nobody knows what she was thinking in those days of waiting when she lost everything. When she was found by the rescuers, she remained silent. She could only speak one word: “Rebecca.” Her name, her identity – and the only thing that the girl has from her life before the disaster.

Just like the story of poor Rebecca, there are thousands of victims of natural disasters, like volcano eruption, typhoon, earthquakes, cyclone, hurricane, mudslides, and tropical storms, who lose their homes, family members, and everything that they had. It is the utmost evidence of humanity to help them gain the chunks of a good life that they had before the disaster hit and break their lives.

How Does A Natural Disaster Affect People?

Speechlessness and shock are often the first reactions to events that take away everything that has made life worth living. People you love, the house you grew up in, the soil that has been so safe for a long time, and the belief that you have your life in your own hands. Within seconds, everything gets changed, and your life turns upside down. The catastrophe is the collapse of our normality. All order is lost then.

What is A Normal Life?

A word ‘normality’ that sounds so harmless, almost boring. Normality can only really be appreciated when it collapses. It is the invisible scaffolding on which people build their entire lives. In everyday life, we make many presuppositions that we are unaware of – the assumption that the toothbrush is still there in the morning, where we put it in the evening, we don’t realize that there are many people in this world who lose their everything within the glimpse of their eyes.

In everyday life, you do not think about its end. Somewhere, the man places his trust in life that he will live tomorrow. It’s only the crisis that shakes things up. If this peaceful condition collapses, it leads to fear and great insecurity. It deprives us of trust – in our own competencies and those of others. The strongest possible stress is triggered by events that are unpredictable and uncontrollable to humans, such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions or floods. Some experts, therefore, also speak of a catastrophic syndrome when describing responses to such devastating events.

Selfish behavior is an exception

So many people, once they realize the enormity of the catastrophe for themselves, have a strong sense of centrality: they feel alone, isolated, extremely helpless and more affected than others by losses. This first shock phase, which is characterized by great confusion and dizziness, is followed by a passive phase: those affected than appear very lethargic and suggestible. They fit without protest, become very unpretentious and show little emotion: they barely speak, react slowly, and move only very restrictedly. The life of victims who actually go through this phase becomes difficult. The shock of going through something like these terrible damages their life and emotions for lifetime. They lose their ability to speak or live a happy life again. It has been observed that the kids and adults who lose their families during such a terrible tragedy lose the ability to maintain their mental balance in the present life. Hence, they are unable to earn for themselves.

Perception of people is usually focused on the here and now. When people realize what the victims go through, their local perception is reduced to what they can still achieve their my arms, and the temporal perception is absolutely focused on what is to be done at the moment to help the ones who are affected. Many then develop a strong need to help others by applying extraordinary physical and mental powers. If those affected manage to switch back to activity immediately after the disaster, they have a greater chance of taming the overwhelming power of such an event.

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Even after reports of disasters over violence and looting, completely egotistical behavior is the exception. Helpfulness fulfills a vitally important purpose: it offers the opportunity to refill one’s actions and being with meaning and to experience oneself as strong. As bizarre as it may sound: that suffering does not just hit one, but larger groups or a whole nation.

Shared suffering can have something very consoling: it offers the opportunity to grieve together and to cope with the experience, to give it meaning – and then to build a new life together. When the first bad time of clearing up and rebuilding is over, and the new everyday life gives a hint of normalcy again, the affected people slowly find their way back to mental equilibrium.

Make life meaningful

This is also the phase in which the experience is worked up – and in which post-traumatic stress disorders can develop when grief and great guilt feelings of having survived seem insurmountable. Studies show that on average 17 percent of disaster victims develop long-term mental health problems. Depending on the severity of the event, on-the-spot support, culture and personality, and biography, it can be well over 50 percent. Developing countries are much more affected than industrialized nations.

How strongly traumatizing a catastrophe works depends very much on how high the stress level and stress in everyday life were before. If like in the Philippines, you have people struggling to survive every day, living in great poverty and social insecurity, their stress levels were already very high. And that increases the likelihood that mental health problems existed even before the catastrophe, which is of course being intensified enormously now.

It is therefore important not to remain in his grief, but to find meaningful activities and to look positively into the future – as difficult as that may seem. Surveys of World War II survivors show that those who had a more positive attitude towards life before the war, or who had a strong connection to religion, art, or music, could make sense of their lives even if they had lost everything and everyone. They were better at the experience and could later lead a relatively normal life again.

Every culture has its own coping strategies

In fact, societies often hit by natural disasters have developed mechanisms for dealing with them: myths, stories, certain rituals. However, those strategies can never heal the pain. It only anchors disasters in consciousness as a possibility. And that makes it easier for the victims to process and classify it in their own worldview.

The Western view sometimes involves the danger of simply ignoring cultural peculiarities, for instance with regard to emergency aid. An example of this is the phenomenon of ghouls, ghosts that many Filipinos believe firmly. It’s a problem for local people to stay there if the dead are not buried within the culturally prescribed time limit. Because then you do not get the spirits back under control – and they remain present in the imagination of the people. Therefore, we believe that taking care of the cultural and traditional beliefs of the victims of disasters; people should help them in maintaining their beliefs, helping them in getting their tasks done and getting their lives back to the track.

Mission Trip

Considering an increase in the cases of natural disasters and how their victims keep on suffering their entire life, Developing Our World has initiated the process of sending their teams on mission trips to help the people whose lives have been greatly affected by such natural disasters. Although the losses they have incurred and the wounds that they bear can never be healed, however, the main aim and focuses of our teams are to help these people normalize their lives to such extent that they can live their future peacefully. Although the nightmares of the tragedies may last long, the mission of our mission trip involves providing the victim’s free psychological treatments in order to help them in getting mentally stable.

Just like people with disabilities, victims of tragedies also affect with such shocks that make them unable to perform any task. Developing Our World’s short-term missions focus on helping these individuals in getting the help of therapists and psychologists so they can get back to their normal lives after the disaster. Till then, all their expenses are accommodated by the team, and they take care of all their needs.

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Miguel Torneire

Is the founder and the Executive Director of Developing Our World, an organization that seeks to put holistic community development into action. He loves Jesus! And, he is a husband, a father, a Pastor, a Missionary, an Author, a flamenguista (a supporter of Clube de Regatas do Flamengo soccer team), and a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner.


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