Boise, Idaho has become a busy resettlement community for refugees from all over the world. To thrive in our country is a significant challenge for these new arrivals. Two colleagues and I designed and implemented a mind-body skills program as part of the International Rescue Committee Life Skills Class for refugee women, with a focus on language acquisition for basic daily activities such as shopping, cooking, and going to the doctor.
At the center of the program are self-care practices that strengthen an individual’s ability to care for themselves, based on the model established by The Center for Mind-Body Medicine. We hoped the shared experience of the women would also contribute to a sense of community support.
Approximately twenty women refugees from Burma, Bhutan, Congo, Burundi, Nepal, Somalia and Iraq attended. Initially there were numerous translators all speaking at once! So we decided to model the practices as the primary method of instruction, while sitting in a circle.
We created a non-verbal sequence that consisted of soft-belly breathing, meditation, gentle yoga movement, self-massage, tapping, shaking, dancing, verbalizing sounds and singing. The one hour program combined seated practices with standing activities, followed by quiet reflection, and was conducted twice weekly for five weeks.
Initially there was very little eye contact among the different group members, and a reluctance to fully engage in practices. Over the course of the sessions, however, we observed participants smiling, laughing and making eye contact within and among the different ethnic groups. Additionally, individuals became more comfortable with the practices, laughing and smiling while dancing and doing yoga.
The transformation amazed IRC staff. A visitor from the Idaho Office of Refugees was blown away at the joy and energy that everyone demonstrated. A colleague commented, “This program is working miracles!”
As facilitators, we all felt our moods and spirits lift over the course of each session. This
was truly one of the most rewarding professional experiences I’ve had.