"During the activity time with Playing to Live! he started to be a child again..."
Prince and his brothers were brought to the Interim Care Center by ambulance without the sirens on. Earlier that morning, a burial team came to collect the bodies of Prince’s parents from their home. Prince and his brothers watched in horror as the men in haze mat suits, called PPE, sprayed down their sleeping parents, zip them up in bags, and took them away never to be seen again. The neighbors of the children told the burial crew that they had to take the children away with them. They could not stay. “They could carry the Ebola like their parents,” a man explained sadly, “No one can care for them here.” There was nowhere else to take them except the ICC. As Prince climbed out of the ambulance at the gate of the center, he saw the security guard spraying the feet of his eldest brother. Scared, Prince screamed and clung to the inside of the ambulance. “I won’t go. Please don’t make me go.” For hours he refused to leave the vehicle, crying out each time an adult tried to touch him. Finally, one of the caregivers, a woman who herself was a survivor and had lost her son, asked, “Why won’t you come play inside with us?”
Prince answered, “If I go dah man will spray me. They spray my ma and my pa. They died. If I sprayed, I will die! I don’t want to die of dah Ebola.” Prince was only four. This is how he had processed how Ebola had killed his parents. For the first week in the center, Prince stayed to himself, quiet and angry. He hit the other children, and stole their toys. He shoved away the touches of the caregivers who tried to help him.
During the activity time with Playing to Live he started to be a child again, even for just a few moments. Jessi, the Program Manager, noticed that he liked to steal everyone’s crayons without asking, and hoard them, then only use one crayon color to draw. She and the caregivers spent a few days, making sure Prince had the crayon colors he wanted without having to take from the other children. They explained the importance of sharing, how it makes others happy when we share. The adults also worked on helping Prince copy the drawings his older brother Isa did. It made him proud to do what his older brother could do.
“Look, Aunties, look at my paper,” he would call out. “Is it good?”
“Oh, wow! What do you think of the drawing, Prince? What is good about it?” we asked back to help him form his own opinions and have self reflection.
“It look like Isa’s. It is bright.”
“Do you like it?”
“Yes! I like it.”
“It is wonderful you like it. Should we hang it up on the wall to share?”
“No, I want to keep it,” he at first answered.
When he was finished drawing, we encouraged him to either share his crayons with his friends or to help clean up his papers. We all clapped together afterwards. Prince began to smile more. He started to play with the others his age. He stole and hit less and less. He started to use his words more and more.
On Day 12 in the center, he had a relapse. During Playing to Live activity time, as we were setting up, he threw a toy at Jessi’s face. “Ouch, Prince, that hurt. Why did you hurt Auntie Jessi? What is wrong?”
“I vexed!” he exclaimed crossing his arms over his big stomach.
“Why are you vexed?”
“I feel vexed oh. I don’t want to be here. I want to go home.”
“Prince, thank you for sharing why you feel vexed. It helps Auntie know what is bothering you so I can help you. Doesn’t it feel nicer to say your feelings than to hurt others?”
He looked at Auntie Jessi in the eye, signed, and said nodded. “Let’s take a deep breath, like this,” Jessi modeled. Prince copied her, and then did it again on his own. That day he asked for help to draw his old home. He used mostly blue. It was the color he said that he wanted. It was a lopsided square with a line for a roof. Isa, his brother, said it was very well done. Prince asked his favorite caregiver, Beatriz, if she could tape it on the sharing wall. A few days later, he ripped it down and put it in his bed. After that drawing became his favorite activity.