A psychotherapist from Buxton is going into the heart of the region hit by Hurricane Katrina to counsel those who have had to witness the destruction.

Dr. Francoise Paradis hopes to go to the communities of Lafayette and St. Martinville in Louisiana in November for a short time and return there again in January for a longer stay. She’ll pay her own way and doesn’t plan to work through an agency.

“As Americans, we have an obligation to help each other,” she said.

The National Mental Health Information Center said in a recent statement that those impacted by Hurricane Katrina could have “deep and lingering” mental health effects for months. In addition to residents, those affected would include thousands of rescue workers. “Almost everyone who lives through such an event experiences some feelings of sadness and depression,” the agency said.

Paradis, who is also an author, knows well the people and communities, which are about a two-hour drive from New Orleans, where she will offer her services. There are “a lot of refugees in that area,” she said.

She traveled to Lafayette in February with a display about the French heritage of the Acadians, who settled there in 1755 after being expelled from Nova Scotia by the British. Nova Scotia was once known as Acadia.

Paradis, who descends from French heritage, wrote a book about the poem “Evangeline” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The poem is a fictional love story of two French Acadians whose lives were blown apart by deportation. Evangeline’s fiancA?© died in her arms when she finally found him after a life-long search.

The hurricane has scattered families, too. “It’s like when they were deported,” Paradis said about lives impacted by Hurricane Katrina.

She said there are 6,000 refugees living in the Cajundome in Lafayette. Paradis is staying in touch with friends there by e-mail and telephone while watching all the news reports on TV. “All the temporary shelters are filled,” she said.

Chere Coen, a writer for The Daily Advertiser in Lafayette, met Paradis earlier this year. “She has reconnected with me and is sending me boxes and boxes of supplies for our refugees. She also e-mailed her friends and I’m getting tons of wonderful donations. She’s a godsend,” Coen said.

Coen said New Orleans is her hometown. “I’m devastated,” she said. “I can’t imagine what the people are experiencing, the ones who were there during that awful week, the ones rescued from rooftops and the rescuers, who had to witness such death, filth and destruction.”

“The people I’ve met, who have lost everything, look like they have had their hearts ripped out of their chests. It’s been a horrifying two weeks,” Coen said.

Hundreds of children in New Orleans have been separated from their parents. Paradis said the schools in Lafayette need help providing for the influx of children. “They need blankets, toiletries, clothing and school supplies. They need a lot of school supplies in Lafayette,” Paradis said.

Coen said Lafayette has 3,400 new students in public schools from the New Orleans area. Another 800 students are enrolled in Catholic schools. “Our school system is strapped,” Coen said. “We are in need of supplies, textbooks, uniforms and the like. We could really use serious money to buy portables or build new classrooms.”

Not just sending packages for relief, Paradis will travel there to help those who have lost loved ones, homes and jobs rebuild their lives. Although she won’t be traveling until November, she’s making plans now. “I’m trying to connect with other therapists there,” she said.

She’ll lend her skills, education and talents to help the as many of the needy refugees that she can but doesn’t see herself as a heroine. “They’re still trying to get bodies out. I’ll let the heroes do that,” she said.

Coen wrote a story about Paradis when she exhibited her “Evangeline” display last February at the Acadian Memorial in St. Martinville. “I found her delightful and intellectual and a proponent of preserving Acadian history and culture,” Coen said.

Paradis said her book, “Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie,” was well received by Cajuns. She said schools are now observing an Acadian Week. “A lot didn’t know about Evangeline,” she said.

Dr. Francoise Paradis of Buxton


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