Volunteers helped to come to terms with trauma

Every tragedy has its own story and leaves its own scars. For the volunteers in Bali who rushed to help after the terrorist attack there, they have their own traumas and memories to deal with.

Imelda, an assistant at a fashion house in Kuta, rushed to Sanglah General Hospital hours after the explosion. She found herself deeply touched by the victims' suffering, though it had never occurred to her that she would be dealing with dead bodies.

The first few days on the job she was fine, but after a week her friends began to feel something was wrong with her.

"We found her talking to herself a lot and many times she asked us to take her to the ruins of the Paddy Club," recalled a volunteer.

Her physical and mental condition deteriorated daily, until her brother decide to take her back to their hometown of Surayaba, East Java.

Hapsari, a coordinator for local volunteer group Humanitarian Volunteers Network for Bali (JRKB), which was set up to help the bombing victims and medical staff at the Sanglah General Hospital in downtown Denpasar and other hospitals in the city, later called Imelda's family to ask about her condition.

"She (Imelda) told me she often went to Dr. Sutomo Hospital in Surabaya and went to the morgue just to feel and smell the atmosphere," Hapsari said.

Hapsari and other staff members at JRKB also had concerns about the mental condition of three other volunteers, Nana, Woro and Esther, who appeared quite happy and untroubled.

"When we did not send them to the morgue, these girls felt so unhappy and disappointed," Hapsari said, adding that she was afraid their eagerness to work in the morgue was a reflection of the true depth of their trauma.

The three students from Udayana University's School of Letters joined hundreds of other volunteers working around the clock to help the victims of the bombings at the Sari Club and Paddy's Cafe in Kuta, which killed nearly 200 people and injured hundreds of people, both Indonesians and foreigners.

Their jobs included taking care of more than a hundred bodies prior to their identification by a multinational forensic team, keeping bodies in the morgue and cold storage containers cool, moving the bodies from the morgue into the containers and keeping these two places clean and hygienic.

"This is my first experience dealing with the morgue and corpses. I didn't have any idea it could be so horrible. There were so many beautiful young faces in the morgue, some of them with happy faces, while other faces expressed their suffering and pain," said the 22-year-old Esther.

Seeing all this pain and misery, the volunteers found it difficult to keep control of their emotions.

"If we could not control our emotions, I don't think we could have managed to work there (at the morgue) all day. Some of our friends, including volunteers from the Indonesian Red Cross, felt numb after working there," Roro recalled.

Other volunteers at the Sanglah hospital, though not suffering from trauma, faced health problems because the hospital failed to provide them with preventive medical care to protect them from such problems as tetanus, tuberculosis and hepatitis.

Irish Trapman, a member of the Australian Red Cross, paid her respects to the volunteers. "I shudder to think what those volunteers witnessed when they rushed to assist the victims of the devastation that occurred in Bali. Their humanity and compassion is a lesson to us all during this difficult time."

Trapman, also a psychologist, praised the local volunteers who, in her view, scarified their personal safety to help the victims.

"I came here (to Bali) as I heard about these volunteers, and I insisted on training them in psychological debriefing. First, I came to the crime sites so that I could see the context in which volunteers had to work," Trapman recently said.

During her time there, Trapman conducted psychological debriefing sessions with volunteers from the Indonesian Red Cross' Bali chapter, and she believes the work will help them come to terms with what they experienced.

"These volunteers have to recognize that they have been through a traumatic incident and that physical and psychological symptoms, such as headaches, loss of appetite, helplessness, sadness, confusion and guilt are normal reactions to the abnormal events of the tragedy here they were so closely involved with," Trapman said.

Trapman, who has also worked with volunteers in Rwanda, Congo and Bosnia, said every disasters had its own story, and described the Bali tragedy as "one of the most horrible disasters that I have ever seen".  (Denpasar)