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Disaster relief volunteers write, illustrate children's books to help kids heal

Headwaters Relief Organization produces books and distributes free copies to kids in disaster-affected areas.

GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. — After tornadoes and hurricanes, volunteers quickly move in to help. They clean up debris. Some even stick around to rebuild.

Volunteers from Headwaters Relief Organization certainly do all of that. At the same time, they take an additional step to help communities heal.

Dr. Roshan Khatri is the organization's medical director.

"There are a lot of people who respond to disasters right after disasters in terms of physical labor... but the community is suddenly left in vacuum after all these first responders leave," Khatri said. "So we also try to help in the psycho social recovery and the best way we are doing that is through our children’s books."

The non-profit produces books and distributes free copies to kids in disaster-affected areas.

"What we are trying to make children and the families understand is that what they're experiencing, what they're feeling, is a normal reaction to an abnormal situation," Khatri said.

The six books the organization has released so far share that theme. Yet each story is different. They're customized.

"The more research we do, the more relatable the stories are," Khatri said. "We range from earthquake in Haiti to Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone."

In addition to natural disasters and disease, Headwaters Relief Organization covers "man-made disasters," Khatri says, pointing to a refugee camp in Greece as an example.

"This book had to be written in five different languages because we were helping families, refugee families, from Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan," he said.

The books are carefully written and illustrated. Locals check for cultural accuracy and mental health professionals help review.

"Everybody working on the book is volunteering their time," Khatri said.

Meanwhile, financial donations cover the cost of publishing. There are several ways to get involved.

"You can volunteer at the comfort of your homes," Khatri said. "For example, with the books we are doing, you can help us in the production. The design of the books."

Headwaters Relief Organization is working on a new book for girls in Nepal who struggle with access to feminine and personal care products, which causes many of them to drop out of school.

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