Project Haiti
Collaborative Effort to Bring Therapeutic Yoga to Haiti

Mar
05

Hello Friends,

Our colleagues Steven Gross and Maggie Julianno are currently in Haiti conducting a needs assessment and I received this email from Steve just a few moments ago. I have tears streaming down my face from reading it. Please take a moment to read Steve’s beautiful and heartbreaking account of his time in Haiti. Love to you all.. Sue

Dear Team,

I feel compelled to write.  Although I can barely keep my eyes open, I’m afraid that if I don’t about today’s experiences they will get lost. I know that I won’t ever forget the “big picture” stuff, but I’m afraid I”ll lose the details.  It’s the little details that make life beautiful and, at times, heartbreaking.

I arrived at Amurt Haiti (the base camp for our operation) at 7:30am today and was asked to accompany the medical team to a small tent city in Port-au-Prince.  The main medic, a great guy named Don from North Carolina and my buddy (and colleague) Dr. Jose Hidalgo – along with an amazing team of Haitian nurses, translators and assistants – set up a make shift clinic to attend to the overwhelming medical needs of the hundreds of people who call this barren pile of broken glass, mud and rubble home (I’m not sure where the 800 million dollars in US donations is going, but I can assure you that it ain’t going here).  The reason that I was asked to accompany this team was that the day before had brought out lines of sick children who had to wait quietly for hours to be seen by the doctors.  The team felt that a little “joy” might make the time go by easier for them.  I brought along a parachute, two Life is good discs, a LIG paddle ball set, and a little red ball.  I actually thought about leaving these toys behind as we obviously did not have enough to accommodate the masses of children.

I was not prepared to see how horribly these beautiful people were living.  I’m not a good enough writer to adequately describe the squaller, so I’ll send you a photo or two when I get home.  While we set up shop, the children of the camp curiously peeked our of their “homes” to see what we were up to.  We set up an examination table out of two old chairs and created a pharmacy and an intake room with some rope, a huge suitcase of medicines, and an old table.  Slowly the line started to form.  I noticed eight children sitting / waiting  silently and decided to take out the parachute.  Without words they walked over.  I laid on my belly and invited them to join.  They did.  We looked at each other, smiled, waved and kept quietly singing “bonjour” to a universally familiar nursery rhyme tune.  We drummed on the ground together, laughed and continued singing.  Within minutes, twenty new children joined us.  WIthin a few more minutes, twenty more.  Before I knew it, well over seventy children, ages two to thirteen, had come to play.   At first I was overjoyed, then I got scared.  A mob or children, hungry for love and attention, was forming.  There was not enough room on the parachute for all o them and some older children began shoving to get on.  The last thing that anyone needed was for another child to get crushed.

Together we rolled-up the parachute and put it away.  Then we joined hands.  We moved together as a group up a small hill of rubble (some of the children had no shoes so we had to walk really slowly) and began singing together, moving our arms together and making up little games that did not involve them having to run.  One big hit was having the children sit in a circle and pass around the hat from my head until everyone touched it and it made it’s way back to me.  Then, through our interpreter (a young Haitian boy from the village), I asked if they thought that my hat could beat me in a race?  As they passed it around quickly, I ran around the circle trying to get back to my spot before the hat did.  You should have heard the place erupt with laughter when I “accidentally fell” and the hat beat me home!  By this time, parents, grandparents and others had gathered round to see what was happening.  We played together for what seemed like hours (maybe I’m just getting old) taking make believe safaris in Africa, imagining stomping through the snow in Canada, building castles with little pieces of rubble, and just hanging out.  David Elkind once said that the best toy a child could ever have is a loving, caring, attentive adult.  Never have truer words been spoken.

After a while, some teens approached me.  They wanted to know who I was, shake my hand, and thank me for “loving the childrens”.  I told them that I would be leaving tomorrow and asked them if they would “love the children” while I was gone.  I explained to them that all they had to do was look at them, smile at them, ask them how they were doing, and hug them when they needed a hug.  I also left them with the few toys we brought (The rest of the toys we brought were being used in a different center in Port-au-Prince) and asked them to play with the children a little bit too when they had the energy.  They promised that they would.

As I was getting ready to leave for the day,  I needed to get something out of our truck.  It was parked about half a mile from the site.  The road was muddy so our driver (and my new BFF) Ismael wisely decided to park it at the top of a steep hill for fear that the truck would not make it down.  As I walked up the hill, a 10 year old boy quietly grabbed my hand.  We walked together in silence for five minutes and then another boy, probably around 7, grabbed my other hand.  We walked up the hill silently – occasionally looking at each other and smiling.  Once we made it to the truck, we shared a small bag of water (yes bag) and sat together silently just holding hands.  I noticed that one of the boys had no shoe laces.  I found a rope in the back of the truck, cut it with Ismael’s knife and the three of us unwound the strands until we had a thin enough piece of string to use as a shoe lace.  Together, silently, we laced up the little boys shoes.  After we finished, he looked at his “new shoes”, smiled and kept repeating “merci, merci, merci”.  He was  so happy – like I had given him the world.  I’ve never seen such appreciation in all my life – never.  This one detail that I never want to forget.

My heart aches for these children.  They have been forgotten.  But my spirit is lifted by them too.  I did not know that it was possible to feel such intense joy and sorrow at the same time until today.  It’s one thing to see the glass as “half full” when it’s indeed half full.  It’s another to see it as half full when it only has one drop inside.  This is what the children of Haiti are all about.  They are surviving, with unimaginable grace, love and joy, with only one drop in their cup.  I can’t  imagine what they could grow to be if we filled their glass just a little bit more.

Anyway – to make a long story longer – we then went to a much larger tent city where I was asked to run a training for Haitian youth workers there.  Again – once the parachute came out and we started playing, the whole camp gathered.  Hungry, tired, sick and thirsty – nobody could resist the desire to play.  I had to see it to believe it.  I wish you were all here to see it with me.

We’ll be back!

Love to you all…

Steve

Feb
21

Hello Friends! Two words can sum up why it’s taken me a while to post an update: SCHOOL VACATION. Having my children for 10 uninterrupted days has given me an incredible bounty of “non-me” time. The gift in this is that I am able to remind myself of how important it is to take care of oneself so the you can more effectively help to take others (in large part by giving them the tools to take care of themselves).  This is why we are so serious about our yoga for first responders program in Haiti and here in Boston for returning first responders. We are currently talking with a contact at PIH to put together at least one workshop led by Mark Lilly. The self care for first responders workshop will benefit not just these men and women, but everyone they are in contact with. In addition, Gretchen Wallace of Global Grassroots is working with a group in Petion-Ville and is interested in our first responders yoga program.  The conversation continues..

On to the exciting news! Steve Gross of Project Joy is heading down to Haiti to meet with Hannah at AMURTHaiti to get the therapeutic play for children program off the ground. Steve will be bringing as many toys as he can lug on that plane down to the 25oo children in the refugee camp and will be gathering important information that he will need in order to get his team down there to start working with the kids and training community leaders to work with the kids. Maggie Julianno is traveling down during that same week and she will be collecting lots of information for Jenn, Mark and Dave so that they can structure their yoga programs based on the situation on the ground there. Maggie’s trip is crucial for the development of  long term and self sustaining programs so we are eternally grateful that she’s offered to travel down, sleep in a tent, swat mosquitos and be wet for a week to bring us this crucial information. THANK YOU MAGGIE!

I will be traveling down later in the spring to meet Hannah and the community leaders at the refugee camp. I need to find out more logistic information such as: where will our volunteers stay? how much will that cost? where will the program coordinator stay? how can we transport volunteers from airport to the camp and back? etc, etc, etc….  All this is exciting because it means we are getting close to moving from just conversations to action.

Soon we will be looking through the resumes that have been submitted to hire our three program coordinators. These coordinators will work on the ground in Haiti for at least six months. If you are interested in being considered for this position please send your resume to maggie at maggiebean@verizon.net as soon as possible. We will also be getting an online application up on our site for volunteer teachers. Volunteers will be required to fundraise for their trip but the training in the program is free thanks to the generous donation of Kripalu. we will be looking for 2 or 3 volunteers (per program) per two week period. we hope to have the application up before April 1st so that volunteers will have at least 5 months to raise the required funds.

As the media begins to move on to more timely topics, the people of Haiti live daily with the trauma and devastation of January 12th. As any of us who work in the field of trauma know, this natural disaster compounds the already complex trauma the people of Haiti may have been experiencing. The process of reversing the effects of trauma is lengthy and for that very reason we are committed to helping the community leaders sew this method of healing into their community centers, refuge camps, hospitals and schools. If you are planning on volunteering, know that you will be directly helping to make this a reality! If you are anyone else who can contribute in any way please let us know. This can happen for Haiti because put down our doubts and fears, put one foot in front of the other and move forward in action. woot!

xoxo

yogahopesue

Feb
13

Dear Friends. It seems like forever since I have posted an update on Project Haiti but that is mostly because things just happen so fast around here. Personally, I’ve been “bumping up against something” which we have all experienced many times in our lives. It is that time in your life when you feel unsettled and ungrounded and have a general feeling that something should/could  be different/better but you don’t know what it is, what it would look like or how to get there. (For me personal story on this click HERE and fasten your seatbelt) This is the very time that you need to breathe and be accepting of the moment you are in. Breath and trust that you will move through it and that it will become exactly what it needs to become. Forcing things or efforting to “hurry up and get through it” not only prolongs the process but may derail you from what is destined to happen. Sit, create space, observe and all will become clear.

This advice is easier to give than to observe! Project Haiti is coming together beautifully, organically and as it is meant to but I find myself to be impatient! Great things are happening. Steve, Maggie, Jenn and I are Skyping with Hannah at AMURTHaiti to discuss the details of their trip down there the first week of March. Steve and Maggie can take a look at how things are operating in the camp and many of our questions will be answered then. Questions such as how are the children and adults naturally congregating? Do the separate into groups? Is there much adult supervision? Is there a core team of care providers that we can train in the trauma techniques that we use? What is the living situation like? Where does food and water come from? Are there other nearby agencies to partner with? etc, etc, etc…In addition to Hannah, I have made contact with an amazing woman named Gretchen who is already doing trauma healing breath work for women in Haiti. We’ll be talking about bringing a yoga component to these women but whatever happens Gretchen is a wonderful person to be connected with.

In the meantime we have been in touch with PIH who has shown some interest in having us work with their returning first responders. This is fantastic news as the secondary trauma recovery piece of our project is very important to us. I have seen first hand how the witnessing or even listening to the retelling of traumatic events can burrow it’s way deep inside you and make a nice cozy home for the rest of your life. Like a tiny little parasite we don’t give it much head and taking the time and energy to “deal with it” just isn’t our first priority, and over time it becomes an excepted part of our inner/emotional landscape. But just like any other trauma it begins to inform our current life. Add to that the addition of other witnessed events and the landscape becomes inhospitable but by that time we can’t really understand why it is so. My mother has witnessed many traumatic events in her years as a Public Health Nurse and just listening to her second and third hand accounts of these things leaves me with the feeling of being violated. We are serious about this work and very honored to be engaging in it. Mark Lilly will be coming to Boston in March to lead a self care workshop for first responders. Stand by.

Last but certainly not least we are just waiting for the right time (we’ve already had a general invitation) to run a yoga for trauma workshop at IIB in Boston. The Haitian Population of Boston is grief stricken and suffering. Grief is a long process and needs to be met with acceptance and compassion. It can take many shapes and forms (I myself am still grieving the fracturing of my family and it has been nearly two years) from anger to sadness to complete shut down to everything in between. The only way out of grief is through and the only way through is to make space to sit with it, notice it, accept it without judgement, and allow it. Like most everything, it is the resistance of the feeling that feels so bad: Not the feeling itself. We will be helping where we can.

Our proposed trauma team is growing organically. I have been bombarded with information about relief efforts for Haiti since we started this and I applaud them all. I feel a pull to reach out to every one of them and join together to make one giant conglomerate of trauma relief but I know that is not reasonable. I am impatient because I want to help more, sooner, better but I need to remind myself to pull back and settle in for the long journey. In the meantime I ask myself “If I knew I were to die tomorrow, what would I do to make a difference today”. What would I do? I would tell every person I ran across that they were beautiful. I would say, “I am going to die tomorrow and I want to tell you that I love you because you are human and I am human and we are one”. Maybe, out of all the people I relayed that sentiment to, one person would feel a softening in their heart and a small relief in their suffering. I know I would.

Feb
08

Today I received an email from Geri Benoit, the former First Lady of Haiti. She tells me that Haiti is not accustomed to yoga and it is not part of their culture. That it will have to be introduced wisely. This made me think of a story I heard lately and I wanted to share it with you all. It was told to me by my mother.

It was the summer of 1984. I had been an exchange student in England that year and was busy wrapping up my last three months stay. By that time, my communication with my family was sparse (remember, we had to hand write letters!) and I was busy making the most of the opportunity to drink “of age” for a while. Back in the states, my mother had taken a job as a public health nurse for 400 Haitian farm workers spread across five tomato farms. Her first order of business was to get every Haitian man, woman and child to register with her so that she could send the list to the local hospitals. In the event that any of the workers went to the emergency room, my mother would be contacted and told to find (insert name here) to administer medication, treatment or wound dressing. It was her job to make sure these people were followed up on and taken care of. My mother worked with a translator, and after each call from the emergency room she would find the translator and tell him, “I need to find so and so to give them medication” and she and the translator would walk from farm to farm, hut to hut and field to field asking if anyone had seen this person. Eventually she would find them and give them the treatment or medication that they needed. Sometimes this involved treating them right in the field as they picked tomatoes. According to my mother, they often didn’t want to stop working because the money they were making was for a family back in Haiti that they were supporting and they got paid by the yield.

One day my mother needed to find a woman who had come to the emergency room with stomach problems. She had to give her antibiotics. She enlisted the help of a translator and they eventually found the woman in her hut. She was lying on her bed, with a bowl of water at the foot of her bed. In the bowl of water was a large stone, and sitting next to the bed was the Medicine Man. My mother knew she could not just hand the pills to the Medicine Man and tell him to make sure this woman took the pills. She knew he would just throw them away. Worse still, he might start the round of medication without finishing the dose and that could lead to big problems. Through the translator my mother spoke to the Medicine Man.

“I am a healer. I see you are one too.”

he looked at her quizzically

“I don’t know how your medicine works but I am interested in learning. Can you please tell me how your medicine works?”

The Medicine Man told her that he did voodoo. He explained to my mother that in Haiti there was “good” voodoo and “bad” voodoo and that he used the good voodoo. He explained to my mother that the stone in the bowl was for removing the poison from the woman on the bed’s belly. He would rub water on this woman’s belly and then rub the stone. That was transferring the poison from the belly to the stone.

My mother sat and thoughtfully considered this. Then she spoke.

“That is good medicine. This woman is lucky that you have such effective medicine.”

The Medicine Man softened.

“Would you like to know how my medicine works?” my mother asked. The Medicine Man nodded.

“This bottle contains pills that the woman will swallow. One pill each 8 hours until they are all gone. These pills also take the poison from her belly but only if she finishes the bottle. If she doesn’t finish the bottle; taking one pill each 8 hours, the poison will come back into her belly.”

The Medicine Man considered this.

My mother said, “I’d like to learn more about your medicine. Can we work together so I can learn?” and he smiled and nodded. She really was interested and she was gaining his trust.

She then made a suggestion.

“Since I am a healer and you are a healer, can we use both our medicines with this woman? I think if we use both of our medicines she is sure to get well.” and he agreed.

That summer my mother and the Medicine Man worked together many times to help heal the Haitian farm workers. They worked together because they had established mutual trust and respect. My mother tells me that of all the jobs she has every worked, this was by far her most rewarding.

Yes, we have a healing modality to bring to Haiti. We must respect and take an interest in their culture and their lives. By barging into that woman’s hut and thrusting those pills on to this woman and the people caring for her, my mother would have sabotaged  any chance to help her. One again I see how wise my mother is.

I hope you enjoyed my story. More developments on Project Haiti coming soon. Visit our website at http://www.yoga4trauma.org

xoxo

yogahopesue

Feb
05

Putting a together a project like this feels a little like cloud busting. You can have an idea or certain thinking around how it will all look, but there is also an element of just watching it take shape. It is futile to force it to be something that it is not. You look at what you have before you, and allow it to become. That is exactly what is happening with Project Haiti. After my initial “conversation” over Skype with Hannah, we were able to follow up over Gmail Chat. Like me, Hannah experienced a devastating divorce and her work with Haiti is the most healing place for her to be. We have engaged fully in some female bonding. I asked Hannah what her most pressing need was. She very quickly answered bringing trauma recovery programs to the 2500 children who are there at the refugee camp. She mentioned that they are all suffering from PTSD symptoms and are afraid to go inside any building.  Hannah made it clear that the children are her first priority so Maggie and Steve are now beginning to think about their recon mission. We will be able to determine what is needed and how to fill that need once Steve and Maggie are able to get a first hand look at the need.

While we thought that we would be serving first responders first, it looks like the kids will be the first group to receive these programs (and we are thrilled about that). In the meantime, Mark Lilly is going to lead a one-day workshop (in Boston) for first responders returning from Haiti. We are still looking for a hotel or space where we can have this workshop. We can gather important information in regards to the on the ground situation in Haiti from these returning aid workers.  We are connected with the IIB http://www.iiboston.org/ here in Boston to get our pilot program in place. Dave Emerson is looking into the funding for this program via JRI via the Department of Public Health and I’ll be heading down there with one of my yoga students who is Haitian and very familiar with the culture (and fluent with the language)

One of my YH contacts finally touched base with her friend who is a grant writer for Paul Farmer. She was very excited about what we are offering and will be getting the documents in front of the right people. Because PIH in Haiti is so busy and so big, it may take a while before we hear, so we are answering the call of the refugee camps and getting ready to put the wheels in motion!

In my conversation with Kelly (she’s at the camps) she asked me a question about a conflict that she was having. I was happy to listen to her explain her struggle. Kelly had spent the better part of a year gearing up to travel down to Haiti to design an educational yoga program for the children in the Northwest Region of the country. The earthquake hit the day that she arrived and obviously things changed. Kelly is not a yoga teacher and does not know a lot about the ins and outs of trauma but what she does have is a heart and a whole lot of love for these kids. Her struggle was this: “I want to offer a service of healing and empowerment through yoga… but I feel that more immediately, these people need food, water and acute medical attention… supplies I just cannot procure right now.” I thought about this statement and it seemed to me that she was telling me that she wanted to help and she was feeling frustrated. Her yoga program was not yet designed because she is still learning herself about the teaching of yoga. These children need medical supplies and basic necessities like food and water, but they also need love and healing.

This was my advice to her “In time you will be able to offer them yoga, but for now follow your heart and not your head. Be there for them in the best way you can be with what you know and the resources you have. That may just be playing with the children, or smiling at them and hugging them.  Giving them physical nurturing, love and care are all things that you don’t need to learn how to do. Everything they have known and counted on has been destroyed. Just be a consistent, loving presence. You already carry those gift within you and they are powerful healing tools.”

Her response was, “that is what my heart has been telling me.”

Conflict solved. Heart open.

Just look at what you have before you, and allow it to take shape.

Thanks for reading. More will be coming. Peace and love to you all!

yogahopesue

Feb
03

Greetings Friends! I can not seem to write fast enough to keep all that has gone on updated on this blog! The most recent and perhaps greatest news is that we made contact with an organization in Haiti that is a fabulous fit for our program!  AMURTHaiti is a community development organization which is exactly what we were planning on doing, but we weren’t exactly how we were going to do it. Well, we don’t have to because they already do! I spoke with Hannah this evening over Skype but the connection was about as good as my Kreyol and we ended up instant messaging.  Even that was touch and go. In addition, she was in the dark (she said there was no electricity. Not sure how she was skyping me) with crying babies in the background and mosquitos feasting on her arms. We said enough to one another to really determine that we are a great fit. Our intention will be to place ourselves there and teach the community leaders of Haiti how to use our trauma informed programming for men, women, children and caregivers. If I don’t sound out of my head jubilent it’s just because I am completely brain fried from a 2 hour conference call.  I’ll be speaking to Hannah again in the next couple of days, but our next step is to plan our reconn mission. Maggie from Sprout Yoga (my wingman) has offered to go down and we’ll see who else can. Steve Gross of Project Joy has been a complete godsend! Steve has done this kind of work before and it was his wise and seasoned words that helped us move our focus to AMURTHaiti. Steve so eloquently stated, “If you have to chase down your partner and convince them to have you down, then your relationship will always be that. You will always be needing to prove your worth. If you partner with someone that finds you and wants you, that will be a beautiful and fruitful relationship” (oy. Where was he when I met my ex husband?)

As far as the local program and where we are with PIH, here’s the recap of the weekend. Jenn Cohen of Little Flower Yoga came up over the weekend to meet with some people from the Home for Little Wanderes, a facility here that offers programs for traumatized and at risk kids (In all my spare time I have been facilitating this union as well). Together Jenn, myself and my son went to the Symphonic Relief for Haiti which was a beautiful concert. I would barely keep it in when the Boston Children’s Chorus was on! The concert is on webcast at www.empowerpeace.org. One of the speakers at the concert was Suzanne Battit, the Director of Development at PIH. I locked my focus on Suzanne as she took her seat just a few rows down from ours. (what luck!) After the concert I approached her and had a little chat, did a little name dropping and she handed me her card. During our little huddle, a couple of women from the local Haitian Community overheard and chimed in with regards to our proposed local program. They suggested the Trauma Center that Mayor Menino has set up at the Mattapan Library and we are pursuing that. PIH is a huge organization and we may connect with them eventually, but AMURTHaiti wants us and they want us as soon as we’re ready to come down. After my phone conversation we will know more. We are working towards doing a thorough needs assessment to determine what they need and how and when we can give it to them. This is crucial.

When I was in New York last Wednesday the friend with whom I was staying was cautioning me about getting too enthusiastic and optimistic about bringing yoga for trauma to Haiti. “These people are completely closed. They don’t want anything. It’s the hardest place on the earth to exist”. On the contrary, Hannah (the woman who is currently in Haiti) could not tell me enough how open these people are. Full of joy and love and light. She explained to me that she had never met more joyous and loving people on earth. My friend in New York (to illustrate the point he was making) told me about a man he knew that was sent down to Haiti by some big organization. His mission was to help the people of Haiti learn a certain task (of which I can’t quite remember) that involved a lot of tools. My friend was getting worked up as he was telling me of how the Haitian people were horrible to his friend. I simply stated, “It doesn’t sound like they wanted to learn what he was teaching”. My friend replied, “But this was something they needed to know! ” I replied, “They may have ‘needed’ to know it, but if they didn’t want to know it you’re friend wasn’t doing any good at all and was just wasting his time.” My friend became agitated. “They were horrible! They stole his tools!!”

Later, when Jenn was up visiting I related this story to her. She looked at me and smiled. “It doesn’t sound like they needed to know how to fix stuff. It sounds like they needed tools“.  Needs. Assessment.

Lastly, I have officially been named the Project Coordinator of Project Haiti. We have a leader :)

xoxoxo

yogahopesue

Jan
31

One of the most common statements I have heard from people over the years (and in particular in regards to my divorce) is “children are so resilient”. That is true, yet it’s not so simple. Yes, children can be resilient but it depends on the child and on the environment they are (and have been) in. In my work I see many, many adult women who have arranged their lives around one traumatic event, a string of events or an early environmental factor that just doesn’t apply to their adult lives. The decisions and the actions that they choose to take are informed by the past and they are unable to update this information. Like having up to date hardware running with out of date and obscelete software; it just doesn’t synch up. There is a growing body of evidence showing that this “synching up” or to put it in fancy scientific terms, the creation of new neural pathways is rarely achieved by sharpening the cognitive mind. Insight and understanding help, but to really heal and alter the emotional stress responses takes more.

As I drove to New York City last week for a funeral I had time to chat with my mom. I was pondering why I was so compelled to bring healing to the people of Haiti. Yes, I work with women in crisis and as a woman I feel very, very passionate about my work, but earthquakes? Natural Disasters? I pondered the question out loud for a moment before my mother reminded me, “you went through it!” Yea. I guess I did.

In June of 1972 the first hurricane of the season swept the east coast. This was back when hurricanes were given only female names and hers was Agnes.  Agnes brought with her torrential rain that dumped inches and inches of water into the mighty Susquehanna River that separated the two main towns of the Wyoming Valley, Kingston and Wilkes-Barre. We lived in Wilkes-Barre, in a cute little ranch style house that was spitting distance from the banks of the Susquehanna.  As the river rose, the people of the town all lined up along the river banks to watch, I was six. I have very vivid memories of lines of people crowded at the top of the dykes, huddled under umbrellas just watching; waiting. Agnes passed over the valley and then took a fateful U-turn to come back around for another pass dumping more and more rain.

“Your father and I picked you kids up out of your beds in the middle of the night and you never went back to that house again.” my mother recalled. Yes, she was right. Our house was completely destroyed by the Flood of 1972. Nothing was saved. No toys, no photographs, no clothes. My mother remembered aloud to me, “We were in shock. We couldn’t think. We couldn’t move. There was no water, no food and no electricity. We couldn’t get to our house. We couldn’t drive and the bridges were out. We were completely devastated”, yet I remember very little of this. I wondered why the flood, an event that ripped me from my home and my school; destroyed everything that I drew comfort from and was familiar with was just a harmless passing memory.

Several years ago my father asked me what my favorite memories of childhood were. I told him that the best years of my childhood were when we lived in a makeshift trailer park after the flood while my father worked to rebuild not just our home but also his business (which was also destroyed in the flood). His jaw dropped. This man could not fathom why the most painful, devastating, depressed and traumatic years of his life were the very same years that I recall as the best years of my childhood. On the phone with my mother I finally realized that the reason was for this great disparity: play.

After the initial months of emergency clean up our family was given a mobile home on a parched piece of land to call home for the next two years. There were about seven mobile homes in all and most of them had children our age. My only memories of this time (save the birth of my sister, the death of my grandmother, the Jackson 5 Saturday morning cartoon and Watergate) were play. Day and night, every moment we could eek out, we kids played. We played house, we played make believe animal kingdom, we played Dolly Madison (don’t ask). We rolled down the spongy hill of the nearby golf course, we road our bikes in the massive parking lot of a nearby industrial office building, we caught frogs and collected fossils. The parents hired a babysitter named Charlene that they all shared and what could be better? While the folks were out helping each other accept the fact that the only tangible links to their past were their children and their memories, we took baths together, had sleepovers together and  put on shows for one another. Everyone’s “house” was just a stone’s throw away and we were never, ever lonely. While my father was deep in a depression and desperately working to get a life back in order for himself and his family, we all were just joyful in our play. I can not think of a happier time in my life and I sincerely mean that.

2 years after hurricane Agnes we moved into our brand new home. The joy of those trailer park years would not be replicated but we still saw each other regularly, we were getting older and our games changed. Now much of our play was “disaster informed”. We recorded fake news programs reporting of tornadoes and hurricanes in fictional towns. My sister Pam regularly portrayed ‘Jane your on the spot Reporter” and interviewed the Mothers and Fathers of the town. “How did you feel when you heard there was a tornado coming?” she would ask.”Oh, I didn’t feel too good.” was the answer. “this is how I sounded: uuuuuuggggghhhh”. Or, “what did your mom do when she heard there was a hurricane coming?”, the answer would be anything from, “she put us in the car and driveded us up to Mountain Top” (a higher elevation) to “she put us in the cupboard with the chickens!” depending on age and degree of intended silliness. We were processing. All that could have been locked inside of us well into our adult years was being set free.

Jenn Cohen of Little Flower Yoga and Steve Gross of Project Joy know this well and are a crucial part of our team. The children of Haiti have lost more than just their homes. So many of them have lost their parents and their siblings. Most of them were already dealing with environmental trauma before this disaster struck so there is an intense complexity to the effects. Jenn and Steve work with children, this is what they do, and instead of sitting kids down in some office and asking them to make dolls talk to one another, they engage them in movement, in play. The power of play as a  healing modality  is not to be underestimated and I now realize I know this first hand. Those years in the trailer park were not only the best years of my childhood, but they were crucial for allowing at least that part of my life to stay in the past. My heart weeps with joy at the thought of bringing that possibility to the children of Haiti.

Kelly Mooney practicing yoga with little girls in Haiti

More yoga with children in Haiti

More exciting updates coming soon and thank you for allowing me to share this story.

xoxo

yogahopesue

Jan
29

When I joined Facebook two years ago I had no way of knowing that it would become my place of solace for an entire year. After the crushing blow (note: understatement) of discovering that my husband had been living a double life for the better part of 14 years, and the subsequent disintegration of my marriage, I leaned on Facebook for support, guidance and let’s face it: distraction. Like spices on your spice rack, I added one friend after the other. One at a time they’d be added to the mix and  and before I knew it I was lousy with network after network of current and long lost friends!  It was a true refuge of an ever growing populace.  Now though, I am seeing the real and very potent potential of Facebook and the heretofore rejected Twitter. (140 characters?!? Come on!!) Because of social networking (in the new fashioned and the old fashioned sense of the phrase) I find myself in the middle of this amazing project, fueled by a collective sense  of love, compassion, care, healing and all made possible by contacts. The blitz-Kreig speed with which Project Haiti is coming together is nothing short of awe inspiring. I guess if you take the time to collect enough spices, you’ll be able to pull together any recipe in the book! Facebook lead to so many amazing yogis, the Yoga Service Council gang and long lost High School and RISD friends who have already committed to help (see Project Haiti logo for evidence. Courtesy of Dan Banks of Project Design). A contact of Maggie’s wrote a nice article for Elephant Journal and of course Dave Emerson (who I met with for no particular reason a few months back) of the Trauma Center is our contact to JRI Health without whom none of this would be happening!  Deepak Chopra, who I  kind of “e-forced” myself upon over Twitter, was kind hearted enough to notice and has given us much help in spreading awareness, not to mention some inroads to folks that can really help us! I’m trying my same not-so-subtle forcing technique on Oprah and Obama with no luck. What gives? Some other amazing contacts are yoga teacher Chanel Luck‘s student who was slated to start a yoga project for kids in Haiti but the program was held up (she was due to fly down there on the day the earthquake struck). She is in Port-au-Prince right now and keeping her eyes open. She has made a two year commitment to be there so she should fit in to our program somewhere!  Also, a fellow yogi, yoga teacher and second grade mom, is good friends with a board member of Partners in Health. This board member is friends with Paul Farmer so we hope to make contact there. In addition, another yogaHOPE contact (who also happens to be a good friend of my accountant in Maine’s daughter. confused?) has a friend who is Paul Farmer’s grant writer. Hello? My head spins.

So, here is the latest. In my unforeseen car trip to NYC for the funeral of a dear friend’s father, I was able to catch up with several members of the team. Maggie sprout yoga Julianno and I had a nice long chat this morning and we gave her some focus and intention! Her job at the moment is to collect as many resumes from interested teachers and program leaders so send them in to maggiebean@verizon.net. Our team will be carefully selecting our program leaders, teachers and coordinators so get them in now. I was actually able to meet with Jenn little flower yoga Cohen and we did some serious brainstorming around program organizational structure. Jenn is also leading a training in Boston (for a program I’m helping establish for traumatized kids here on local soil at the Home for Little Wanderers) so she decided to come up for the benefit concert this weekend and meet the Home folks too. Awesome..she is truly a love. On my way back to Boston I caught up with Dave Emerson of the Trauma Center and together we agreed that getting the Executive Director of the JRI and Paul Farmer in conversation with one another is of utmost importance. With lightening speed, Mark Streetyoga Lilly put together a beautifully crafted Executive Summary and we’re ready to for our action plan which includes: Outreach for qualified teachers and program leads as well as publicity for growing awareness, Getting program heads together to congeal program and choose date/place for local programming, and start laying out organizational structure, timeline and budget, and of course getting the big dogs talking!

Lastly, I want to mention that on my drive to NYC I was able to finally catch up with my mother. So happens, that in the year that I spent as an exchange student in England and  was traipsing  around with my fellow “catholic school-girls gone bad”  (if you can qualify getting drunk on pernod and pimm’s cups as bad), my mother was caring for 400 Haitian farm workers in 5 different farms in Northeast Pennsylvania! She told me stories of working side by side with the medicine man, treating one of the first aids patients, parking her butt in the dirt and dressing the wound of a young Haitian man while he continued to pick tomatoes (picking = $$$), and helping a young Haitian woman get an abortion. I told her she should write a book. I’m thinking of sharing some of these stories on this blog but for now, let’s just say my mother is not the same person to me after that conversation. In addition, I was able to see the real need for secondary trauma care. Through the years my mother has seen some horrific things and heard some very tough to swallow stories and when she passes them on to me I feel their weight in my like a stone in water. I know from my own personal experience that this heaviness is only alleviated by a mind body practice and I am so behind that aspect of our programming.

thanks for reading everyone. I will continue to share, update and inspire..

peace to all

yogahopesue

ProjectHaiti_all

Jan
26

It seems that every time I submit a post some new awesome development comes our way. Here’s the latest exciting news. Dave Emerson of the Trauma Center contacted Kripalu and they have agreed to donate space enough for 30 people for our training from September 6 to 10. This is an astoundingly generous offer and a testament to how seriously the work of yoga for trauma recovery is being taken. The Trauma Center and it’s founder Dr. Bessel Van der Kolk have been studying the effects of yoga and meditation on PTSD and the data is very compelling (to say the least). This project will sponsored by JRI Health and the Trauma Center in Boston Mass. Our team will be developing a model of integrating yoga for trauma recovery programs for men, women, children and care givers/aid workers into already established aid or medical organizations in traumatized nations. In this case (Haiti) we are looking to Partners in Health and Paul Farmer’s group. We hope to establish ourselves as the mind body trauma recovery unit of in country established aid and/or health organizations such as Parters, Mercy Corp, Oxfam etc. The idea here is that with this program model we can go to any traumatized nation, starting with Haiti. Our core programming team consists of Mark Lilly of Street Yoga, Jenn Cohen of Little Flower Yoga, Dave Emerson of the Trauma Center, with a possible addition (we hope) of Steven Gross of Project Joy. Our project coordinators and general “get the job done” folks are Sue Jones (me) of yogaHOPE, Maggie Julianno of Sprout Yoga, We are being advised and supported by Deepak Chopra, Geri Benoit (former First Lady of Haiti), Bessel Van Der Kolk,  and Lachlan Forrow and Lisa Wong of the Longwood Symphony Orchestra and the Albert Sweitzer Fellowship.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health has earmarked some funds for JRI to bring trauma relief to the local Haitian population so we will seize this opportunity to run a workshop or pilot program in a local community center or church. Mark, Steve, Jenn and Dave will develop a cohesive way to offer their programs for trauma recovery to the men, women, and children of the boston Haitian community, as well as the aid workers and family members returning from Haiti. This pilot will give us an opportunity to work out some kinks, get familiar with the Haitian culture and understand what they will and will not respond to. In order to best serve this community we need to know them and meet them where they are, and not where we want them to be (anyone with kids knows has learned this lesson well!) This is all in the works (Dave, Jenn, Mark and I had a great conference call today)

We also are actively accepting resumes for the first team on the ground in Haiti. We will be looking for program leaders and trainers who will be leading the program as well as educating Haitian community leaders on the running of the program. If you are interested please send your resume to maggiebean@verizon.net. We will select our first team from this first group of resumes so send it in!

The training is slated for September at Kripalu and the dates are September 6 to 10. In the meantime, we are looking for a facility (just one to start) to get our program running in! More updates on that as they develop. Donations are being accepted and I’ll be sending out an appeal shortly. You can send checks to Black Lotus and make sure you put “Project Haiti in the memo line!!

healing the world one breath at a time…

xoxoxoxo

sue jones

Jan
25

Years ago I picked up a book about gardening. I had just moved to Maine from NYC and figured it was time for this former city gal to make the internal change from town to country, and what better way to do it but starting a garden! In this book I discovered (much to my indolent surprise) that in order to have a healthy garden, you first had to have healthy soil! Well, I didn’t care to firmly understand this concept back in my early 20′s but the years have taught me a thing or two and being a mother and teacher (among other things) has taught me that if you’re not healthy you can’t really care for others or help them become healthy.  Enter: Mark Lilly of Street Yoga. Mark knows this principle well and has been working with secondary trauma victims for a good long while now. His mindful caregivers program is helping the people who care for victims of trauma have a profound, real and long lasting effect on their clients, students, and patients simply because they are first caring for themselves. If we are truly to help the people of Haiti, in not just this year, but for years and years and years to come, we must focus focus first on the folks that will and are the caregivers to the Haitian people.  Patience is not one of my strongest qualities but I understand the tremendous value of the ripple effect. One drop in a large body of water will ripple out for miles and miles (that’s a big drop) and that’s our frame of thinking for this project. In 6 months, 8 months, 10 months, the people of Haiti will still be suffering from the emotional effects of trauma and these effects don’t end once their houses are rebuilt and they have food to eat and water to drink. I work with women and men who are judges, lawyers, social workers, and all kinds of high muckity-mucks and still I see how trauma effects them. It’s real, it’s lasting and mind body programming (yoga, meditation) is proving to be one of the only things that makes a lasting change. (see www.traumacenter.org) It has the capacity to create new neural pathways in the brain. If that doesn’t get you all excited then I’m not sure what will!

Now for the really good news! JRI Health has committed as a sponsor for this project. Bessel Van der Kolk is in with two enthusiastic feet. This means that once we’re on the ground in Haiti and our programs are running, there will be some long term studies being conducted. This is fantastic news for the growing acceptance of the notion that conventional trauma treatment (and trauma is the root cause of many acute symptoms from eating disorders to substance abusers) could be much more effective with a mind body component as and addendum therapy.

Finally, thank you for reading this blog. This is a way for us to share the progress and the process of this project with all of you who care. One of the most asked questions of all of us is “how do I do this in my town, city, state, country” etc.  There is no clear and concise answer but this blog may give some insight into “how” to do anything that you passionately believe in. The most important step is the first one, and the will be many “first steps” along the way. Just as the garden gets planted after the soil is full of nutrients, there are other variables that contribute to the health of the plant (sun, water etc.) and you need to stay flexible enough to make some changes; move some plants and find the right balance so the garden will thrive. In your effort to assure that all components are strong and healthy, the bounty you receive is glorious!

Peace and Blessings

Sue

www.yogahope.org

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