Project Haiti
Collaborative Effort to Bring Therapeutic Yoga to Haiti

Earthquakes and Floods; Play and Processing

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 Like having up to date hardware running with out of date and obscelete software; it just doesn’t synch up.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.




2 Responses to “Earthquakes and Floods; Play and Processing”

  1. Looking forward to further updates!

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