While we often talk of stress after disasters, we sometimes forget about resilience and post-traumatic growth, the positive change after crisis or a traumatic event. Today we see the ravages of a hurricane in Puerto Rico and hope that enough help arrives to enable people there to thrive once again.
In New York City the Columbus Day parade honored 100 Italian American writers. Among them was Olivia Kate Cerrone whose book, The Hunger Saint, tells about the carusi, child miners in Sicily. Through research and interviews she conducted there, people talked of children as young as six who were contracted by a death loan, soccorso morto, to help support their families by working in the mines.
Both in the United States and in Sicily, Cerrone met with families changed by tragedy. She said they moved from anger and sadness to resiliency. During the West Virginia Italian Heritage Festival in Clarksburg, at which she was a guest at the Author's Forum, even after such devastating loss of life from mining disasters, last month they celebrated once again their Italian culture and heritage.
It was there that people talked of relatives and the Monongah disaster in 1907 at the Fairmont Coal Co. There some 362 lives were lost after an explosion. And the most recent mining tragedy occurred just 7 years ago with 29 lives lost. But she said the people there have come together to express gratitude for their lives and families.
A University of North Carolina team identified post-traumatic growth syndrome.
It is positive change experienced as a result of the struggle with a major life crisis or a traumatic event. Although we coined the term posttraumatic growth, the idea that human beings can be changed by their encounters with life challenges, sometimes in radically positive ways, is not new. The theme is present in ancient spiritual and religious traditions, literature, and philosophy. What is reasonably new is the systematic study of this phenomenon by psychologists, social workers, counselors, and scholars in other traditions of clinical practice and scientific investigation. Posttraumatic Growth Research Group
On September 25th, Elizabeth Bernstein for the Wall Street Journal wrote of post-traumatic growth after experiencing Hurricane Irma in Miami. She talked of “new found confidence.”
We can only hope that after the desperate situation in Puerto Rico, people there will also find a way to rebuild their lives and refresh their spirits.
At the West Virginia festival Cerrone read read excerpts from her book. It is a story of the hardships these children endured through the voice of the young Ntoni. His prayers to St. Calogero helped sustain him. According to folklore, St. Calogero, a black missionary, treated sick people with the sulfur waters that were near the caves where he lived as a hermit. He also brought bread to the poor and those outcast because of the plague. People would throw loaves from their windows for him because they feared contagion.
After reading at the Festival Author's Forum, Cerrone said:
“These wonderful families remembering the mining disasters, could relate to Ntoni. Despite the mine’s underground tragedies there, people have grown through the traumatic experience. They have their cultural heritage -- which they celebrate lavishly with love, beauty, gratitude, and pride.“ West Virginia Italian Heritage Festival
In writing the book and seeing how children endured such backbreaking conditions, she added, "This was a reminder that childhood is precious, abuse and neglect are intolerable, and all children deserve our care and protection.”
Copyright 2017 Rita Watson
Calhoun, L. G., & Tedeschi, R. G. (2013) Posttraumatic growth in clinical practice. New York: Brunner Routledge.
Kilmer, R. P., Gil-Rivas, V., Tedeschi, R. G., & Calhoun, L. G. (Eds.) (2010) Meeting the needs of children, families, and communities post-disaster: Lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.