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What Should I Do After A Disaster? (Soft Assistance, Part II)

As promised, this is the second in a series of articles about Soft Assistance. It is now time to learn what to do when it is time to bring Smiles to the Rescue.

Let's say It has now been two days since the disaster. You have been listening to the media and found the time and place where agencies will be handing out bottled water, dry ice, food, clean up kits, and additional information. In most cases, that place is going to be a parking lot. Once the location is determined, it is time to go into action to bring SMILES to both the affected and the workers. Don't forget to include the workers with your soft assistance. Offer them a foam nose to wear so they can spread the good cheer to everyone they meet as well. Here are the steps you should take:

  • Meet at Site

  • Determine Assigned Areas

  • Survey/Observe Affected Areas

  • Engage in Active Listening

  • Implement Soft Assistance

Meet at the Site - During the waiting period outlined in our first article, you outreached to other RNR responders in the disaster state or vicinity and determined who would be meeting at the site, what time, and where. You should have also pre-discussed what you would wear in both clothes and makeup (keeping it extremely light to none). Don't forget a nose or wear your clown shoes. (Refer to the last ezine article for additional information.) Make sure each of you is on the same page.

Determine Assigned Areas - Once you have met at the designated site, look over the entire area (it will probably be spread out across the location). Decide which one of you will take a specific area so you are not stepping on each other's toes. (Remember the idea is to Go Low/Go Slow!)

Survey / Observe Affected Areas - This point is very important. Once you are in the area agreed upon, look around first and observe the individuals. As clowns, we should know when to step in and when to step's all about approachability. How many children are there if any? Who is busy with other organizational aid? Who might be involved with a spiritual professional? Who looks extremely forlorn? You have to use your logic as to who would be the first you should approach. If your primary focus point is comforting children, then you might wish to cautiously approach them not knowing the depth of their losses. Remember to introduce yourself first (clown name is perfectly fine). Keep your actions intact and low key.

Engage in Active Listening - Make good use of two principles of Red Cross training: Humanity and Impartiality. The principle of Humanity is the need to act in order to alleviate human suffering. The principle of Impartiality is exercising no discrimination. If we, as RNR responders, abide by these standards as clowns we can help those who suffer, without discrimination, whether during conflict, in response to natural or man-made disasters, or due to conditions of chronic poverty. "Listening" is a virtue that each of us must work on while performing our responder tasks. Sometimes, it's difficult to "just listen." Listening can sometimes be the most important aid that people need during these devastating times. They need to tell their story. Many times, volunteer workers do not have the time to give by "just listening." You can do that. Show them interest in their stories. Be very respectful. Give full attention. Never say, "I know how you feel!" Refrain from sharing your personal experiences. Leave them with a paper rose, a sticker, some memento, and a SMILE.

Implement Soft Assistance - This is where your Grab & Go bag is essential. After surveying your area, you will know what in your bag will be needed as handouts or entertainment (stickers, balloons, napkin roses, pocket magic, puppets, bubbles, etc.) Follow the rule of Go Low/Go Slow! Remember that your very presence should be a moment that is remembered in a very good light. Children will no doubt benefit from your handouts and entertainment but even they have a sensitivity with the disaster at hand whether it's grief or coping with distraught parents. Take time to realize the individual you are responding to. Adults, too, need soft assistance. The handouts may not necessarily be the answer to brighten their moment. Listening, being compassionate, saying little but showing a kindness such as a hug, their hand in yours, your hand on their shoulder or back lends comfort. However, some people may not appreciate it. Ask permission before engaging in physical contact. Read their comfort zone and act appropriately. Know when to approach and when not to.

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