We went down to Port Au Prince a few weeks after the earthquake in January of 2010. Our founder, Dr. Nancy Sobel, is a Los Angeles psychologist specializing in trauma and addictions and was hoping to do some trauma interventions and provide mental health support. That first trip began an odyssey which found her traveling to Haiti approximately 6 times per year and continuing her private practice to support her “Haiti habit.” She found herself working at a women’s clinic at a large camp for displaced people. The women made her aware that there were several teens who had lost their homes and families and had absolutely no support. At the time, there were lots of resources for adults and smaller children, but the adolescents were lost in a service gap and expected to fend for themselves. She became aware that there were teens in developing countries and post-natural disasters all over the world in similar circumstances as the kids that she encountered in Haiti. She eventually started a nonprofit called Global Adolescent Project (GAP) with the mission to educate, encourage and empower disenfranchised youth, globally.

At the same time as she was helping the kids find homes, schools and sustenance, she did a number of trainings in mental health particularly with paraprofessionals who would then work alongside medical teams in mobile medical clinics. She also found a very small twelve step community in Port Au Prince. The meetings are held at a building run by APAAC, the only addictions prevention and treatment program in the country. With a population of approximately eleven million people, one treatment program is a huge service deficit and challenge. Additionally, although APAAC owns the land and the building, they have had no funding for several years and have had to reduce services to a skeletal outpatient program and spotty prevention activities. The two women who run the program have worked without pay for at least four years.

As the GAP kids have gotten older, graduated high school and are studying in university and generally less in crisis, Dr. Nancy has turned her attention back to her original motivation for helping in Haiti; trauma and addictions training and education. Our organization works in cooperation with several other organizations in Haiti and in the U.S. The Meadows in Arizona has joined in and helps support GAP kids as well as sponsoring an annual conference on Spirituality and Mental Health every June in Port Au Prince. This conference was attended by 310 participants last year and included both local and international speakers.

This year, we have begun some pre-conference seminars and the local medical community has requested assistance in learning more about detox protocols. The primary drugs of addiction and abuse in Haiti are alcohol, crack and marijuana. We have scheduled a training for Wednesday afternoon, June 14.

Meanwhile, alcohol and other drug abuse among youth in Haiti is on the rise and this year GAP expanded its services with an initiative called GAP: CREATE (Community for Recovery and Trauma Education). The first project for GAP: CREATE is a Peer Education and Counseling Program. We have trained about a dozen adults who will go into three pilot schools to train and advise students in peer education and counseling.

Some of The trainers are from the department of psychology and nursing at University’ Notre Dame Haiti. This program requires that the parents of all student peer counselors also receive training and work in their community to educate neighbors about addiction and trauma. The peer counselors receive a tuition stipend for their participation in the program. There is no free public education in Haiti beyond third grade so the tuition directly enhances Haiti’s sustainability.