A world ravaged by war means millions around the world are left in a state of total devastation. Be it broken bodies, destroyed livelihood or the breakdown of social structure, well intentioned efforts to rebuild rarely take into account the emotional wreckage that violence leaves in its wake. Without mental health and alleviation of the effects of PTSD, there can be no post conflict recovery, according to Dr. Stephen Alderman of the Peter C. Alderman Foundation. “If you don’t have the will to live, you cannot improve,” he addressed an audience of about 200 hundred supporters at the Water Club in New York City, where the nonprofit presented its annual Humanitarian Award to author, filmmaker and activist, Eve Ensler.
A mother will not walk the two miles needed to get water for her children, a father won’t keep up with the medication regimen required of AIDS treatment or a young person too demoralized to set up mosquito bed netting are things that Liz and Steve Alderman knew little of themselves until their son Peter was killed at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. In searching for a fitting manner to remember him, they learned that one Billion people in conflict and post conflict areas suffer so severe a state of clinical depression that they can no longer function.
11 years later, PCAF operates on three continents and numerous countries. Reaching out first to national government institutions, the operation then trains local health workers in mental healthcare and set s us clinics of indigenous caregivers. “We give people the tools so they can take care of themselves,” says Liz Alderman, and it’s done in accordance with the social norms of each community, she added before giving way to Erica Hill of CBS News.
Meeting for lunch a few days earlier, the CBS This Morning co-host immediately sensed the positive energy that the Alderman’s generate. “I knew in that moment what incredible people they are and what incredible work they do,” she said.
Hill also learned the most important lesson that Peter taught his mother was how to see beauty in the world. A learned behavior that only slowly returned with the success of the foundation named on his behalf. “What a beautiful way to honor a life well lived and what a beautiful reason to get up in the morning,” she said.
And that certainly applies to the traumatized in Uganda, Cambodia and Haiti. The approach is simple. “With so many organizations throwing their hands up in failure,” said Hill, “when you focus on one thing, one person, you make a difference.”
In that, Ms. Hill could seamlessly segue into the evening’s first award. Susan Ayot is one of the PCAF trained psychiatric nurses in Gulu, Uganda and arrived in America last week to receive the Sarlo Foundation Leadership Award.
Putting aside the New York City sidewalk pace that put her toes on the defensive all week, she didn’t attempt to side step the gratitude. “I feel so privileged to have the opportunity to be in front of all of you,” she said.
Describing some of the tragedy she’s seen as a PCAF team leader since 2008, the honor really belonged to the audience in getting a firsthand account of the triumphs. “When I see hope back on someone’s face, that’s my biggest achievement,” she said.
Almost as important in the wake of the stigma associated with mental illness is the manner in which the results filter out. “Health workers, family members and villagers see the impact of proper care,” she said.
Acceptance follows and Eve Ensler was on hand next for both. “It’s our honor to present the Peter C. Alderman Humanitarian Award, said Liz Alderman at the podium as she ceded the floor for the recipient.
Moved and equally honored, Ensler commended the Alderman’s for transforming pain into power. “Rather than seeking revenge through more violence, you’ve experienced your grief and opened your heart to change the lives of others,” she said.