Israeli non-governmental organization IsraAID is sending eight highly trained volunteers to Louisiana this weekend to help flood victims return to their homes, salvage personal belongings and get back into a normal routine as soon as possible.

“We watched the storm developing in the last few days and with the help of our local partners we got a snapshot of the enormous damage and the great need for assistance and rehabilitation,” said delegation head Naama Gorodischer, Global Programs Director for IsraAID.

At least 13 people were killed and more than 60,000 houses were damaged in the Louisiana floods, which could be the largest natural disaster in the United States since Hurricane Sandy in 2012. IsraAID helped US communities after Sandy and five other calamities including Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and last year’s wildfires in Washington State.

In May, the group sent its first-ever team to Canada, after wildfires in Fort McMurray in the province of Alberta forced the evacuation of 90,000 people from their homes.

Seven Israeli volunteers joined veterans and aid workers from Canada and the United States in clearing debris and sifting through the toxic ashes, assisting local authorities and offering professional psychosocial support.

Even now, as thousands of Fort McMurray families are still not allowed back into their homes, the Israeli volunteers are continuing to provide specialized psychosocial training to several local agencies that give direct services to those most affected by the fire.

IsraAID’s Natalie Silverlieb leading psychosocial training in Fort McMurray, Canada. Photo via Facebook
IsraAID’s Natalie Silverlieb leading psychosocial training in Fort McMurray, Canada. Photo via Facebook

Natalie Silverlieb, Canada Head of Missions for IsraAID, said the goal of the workshops in expressive art therapies and psychosocial methodologies is to “train the trainers,” giving local professionals tools to host their own workshops to teach people how to connect and support one another and even to use humor for emotional relief.

“The plan is, moving forward, to build something more sustainable,” Silverlieb said.

One of the workshop participants reported afterward that she felt as though a weight had been lifted from her shoulders. “It was a safe place to explore what I was feeling. I feel more grounded and secure in my ability to come out of the fire a stronger person,” she said.