"That morning when I got up, I never dreamed I’d see what I saw — so much water.” — Henry Armstrong Jr., Survivor, Hurricane Katrina
"There are different reasons for different people, but, in telling your story, you own the experience, otherwise the experience owns you," said University of Houston Professor Carl Lindahl. He co-directs the Surviving Katrina and Rita in Houston project, which has successfully recorded more than 400 stories from hurricane survivors, like Henry Armstrong Jr.
Survivors of disasters train other survivors to capture their experiences through storytelling. They coax their historic stories and rebuild themselves from the rubble of disaster.
"These individuals came with somebody else’s story captioning them, and it was really important for them to get their story back to reassert their identities,” he said. “That’s one major reason why these stories were healing; they got to get themselves back."
Now, Lindahl is organizing a global conference in Italy to bring together disaster survivors, ethnographers and public health officials from Japan, Sierra Leone and China to tap the healing power of telling one’s story.
"We’ll sit down and work out problems regarding how to best use survivors' storytelling, and other survivor traditions, to make the survivors more active agents in their own recovery," he said.
Another project he is planning is titled “Survivor to Survivor.” He and UH student researchers will travel to Haiti to design a training program for survivors of the 2010 Haitian earthquake to record their fellow survivors’ stories. It’s healing and it’s history. Stories that need to be told and need to be heard.
"I remember one person writing to me, ‘at a time when it was very hard for all of us, you reintroduced us to this better sense of who we were,' And, you know, that’s a wonderful thing to be able to say," Lindahl said.
Healing stories are part of what’s happening at the University of Houston.