The next day, before we leave, we spend time at the Foyer des Orphelins d’Haiti, an orphanage not far from the airport. The cramped gray-walled quarters, beds without mattresses, and, especially, the kids’ desperate need for attention and touch and anything else we might give, bring us all to tears or to that state in which we knew if we would but let them, they would come. There are 70 kids who live in the orphanage and 100 more who go to school there each day. Already, the principal tells us, 60% of the older kids who have participated in our groups, are calmer, more focused. We will, over the next few months, have 10-week-long small groups for all 170, and do whatever we can to help the orphanage’s caring, committed, and overwhelmed staff provide enough food and guidance so that these kids will have the best possible chance at life.
In Port-au-Prince the next day, Kathleen and Catherine have the opportunity to see the small groups—with kids, teenagers, and adults—in action, to hear which technique has been most helpful to each person, to feel the closeness that develops over the weeks of regular meetings.
Jacmel, a seaside town famous for its crafts, is a three hour drive south across the mountains. At the side of the road are chickens, donkeys and the occasional stray dog, behind them banks of vegetables in stalls; overhead, blue, purple, pink, and orange flowers, and, beyond, ranks of mountains marching off toward the horizon.
Before we leave for the countryside we visit classrooms at Notre Dame de la Guadeloupe where our Haitian team is currently leading workshops. After workshops, which take place in classrooms, have been offered to all 700 students, we’ll begin 10-week-long small mind-body groups for all the kids, and the teachers and administrators as well.
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With me in Haiti is Kathleen deLaski, a former journalist and AOL executive, whose father Don has made possible everything we’ve done in Haiti. Since Don’s death a year ago, she has headed up the family foundation, and now wants to experience firsthand the program that Don so generously and lovingly funded. Her daughter, Catherine Grubb, who is studying neuroscience, is with us, as are Lee-Ann Gallarano, who manages our Global Trauma Relief program, and Laura Milstein, our Development Director. It’s Laura’s first trip to Haiti, as well as Kathleen and Catherine’s. Linda Metayer, the psychologist who leads our Haiti program, has organized our visit.
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The terrible deaths of school children and those who care for them in Connecticut are bound to touch all of our children and, indeed, all of us. I’ve learned, over 15 years of work with populations traumatized by violence and natural disaster, that we must pay attention to whole populations as well as to the people most affected. All of us, certainly those who have lost family members and all of those living in Newtown need a way to come together to share their grief and anger, bewilderment, and, yes, despair. And they need, as well, ways to help them to deal with the fear and mistrust, the rage and the emotional numbing, that may persist along with the grief and the loss.
The first day’s meeting with our Gaza leadership team opens the door, actually frames the whole visit. There’s Jamil—our Program Director, and nineteen others—psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses, social workers. They have day jobs in Gaza’s ministries, at the UN, and in the red crescent, and a variety of local NGOs. Many have been with us since 2005 when they came to the first training. They lead our programs in the institutions in which they work, supervise the 420 clinicians and educators we have trained in Gaza and meet together every week to learn from one another and make our program as good and as easily available as it can be. Jamil and his team are responsible for bringing our work to, so far, 50,000 Palestinian children and adults.
People with cancer often come to me with a central question: “What else can I do?” This has two parts: What other therapies are available than the ones my oncologist prescribed? And, second, what can I do? How can I participate actively in my own care?
For Israelis and Palestinians, this question is fundamental. Israelis, like Americans, are faced with a multitude of (often conflicting) treatment choices. For Palestinians with very limited treatment options, a cancer diagnosis—even for some of the most treatable forms of the illness—is often accepted as a death sentence. In both cases, “what else can I do?” is a question whose answers are of central importance to the well-being of patients—one that The Center for Mind-Body Medicine (CMBM) has been answering for twelve years in its US CancerGuides trainings.
The basketball courts lie, like high-value chips a giant might play, across the vast floor of the Las Vegas Convention Center. 400 teams, 4,000 players ages 9-19, at the Jam On It AAU Tournament. There are 12 or 15 thousand parents, coaches, refs, and siblings, the kids in uniforms, almost all of us in baggy shorts.
It’s overwhelming and I am, at first, a bit huffy about it. Wondering why my son needs to fly to another state to play, remembering going every day to the park for pick-up games.
But it grows on me. The kids are black, brown, yellow, white, wealthy and working class, and there are almost as many girls as boys, practicing cross-over dribbles, slapping hands. Very focused.
Kurt Andersen (“The Downside of Liberty,” New York Times.com, 7/4/12) writes that because of the “do your own thing” ethos of the 1960’s, “we are all shamelessly selfish.”
Anderson misreads the character and is insensitive to the spirit of those times, which my friends and I, and millions of other young people, lived through and were touched by. Doing our own thing was for most of us a quest for authenticity spurred by generous hopes for all and fulfilled in communal action.