Campus: CSU Los Angeles -- September 23, 2005

Cal State L.A. Faculty Traveled to Sri Lanka in the Summer to Train Workers Helping Survivors of the South Asia Tsunami

"Even though it has been months since the tsunami, many parts of Sri Lanka are still showing signs of devastation," says Gaithri Fernando, assistant professor of psychology at California State University, Los Angeles.

A licensed clinical psychologist whose area of research and practice is traumatic stress, Professor Fernando recently returned to Los Angeles from Sri Lanka, where she spent the summer traveling to different parts of the country and volunteering to train personnel working with tsunami survivors.

A native of Sri Lanka, Fernando reported that her trip was mixed with "frustration and successes." When she landed in Sri Lanka, she had difficulty connecting with organizations she usually works with but eventually was able to connect with some local relief groups.

In Colombo, she conducted a training workshop for medical interns who are essentially used as community workers by the National Child Protection Agency. The NCPA staff members were taught practical ways of working with children who have been severely affected by the tsunami as well as with teens on alcohol and tobacco abuse.

Fernando then conducted a five-day workshop in collaboration with one of the mental health professionals in Sri Lanka for 30 teacher-counselors, a special group of teachers selected by the Ministries of Education and Health to work with children in schools who have been impacted by the tsunami.

She was able to train counselors dealing with domestic violence survivors around the country. Counselors are reporting very severe forms of domestic violence in all part of Sri Lanka. In the future, she hopes to return to Sri Lanka to focus her work on helping abused women in Sri Lanka.

She also conducted counselor training with some community workers in the camps in the East coast of Sri Lanka, Batticaloa. These counselors were full-time ministry workers for the church that sponsored a refugee camp.

Fernando recently authored two articles on the cultural aspects of mental health issues relating to the tsunami and Sri Lankans, which were published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress and Traumatic StressPoints. Interviewed on the same topic, she was featured on National Public Radio in January, and in the March issue of the American Psychological Association newsletter, Monitor on Psychology. She will also present two papers at the annual meeting of the International Society of Traumatic Stress Studies in November, addressing the training of trauma counselors in Sri Lanka.

In addition to volunteering her time this summer, Fernando was able to donate $1,000-her own funds and money collected from friends in the U.S.-that went directly to buying three sewing machines, a rope-making machine, and supplies as well as clothes for children in the Eastern camps.

Fernando is currently planning to help with the mental health needs of those who are displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

Media contact: Margie Yu, Public Affairs Specialist, (323) 343-3047

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