“Let me be clear: people in South Sudan are not just fleeing their homes because they need food, shelter or medical care and school for their children. They are fleeing [because they] fear for their lives,” Mr. O’Brien told reporters at UN Headquarters in New York.
“We must protect them, and we must save their lives,” he stressed. UN.org
As I prepare to fly out to Uganda today, this quote rings in my head. At Playing to Live! we seek to protect children and families through building skills to combat the effects of the trauma, and in this case, trauma due to violence and displacement. Within refugee camps families ideally have received their basic shelter and food needs, but the short term and long term interpersonal, social, and psychological effects of trauma prevail.
I have scheduled meetings within a large refugee camp in Uganda to speak to organizations on how we can begin to address the psychological needs of children and families as they live within the camp. Our mission at Playing to Live believes that all communities have the resources to heal from trauma and our role is to teach skills to empower these resources.
Playing to Live! started out with such energy in 2015, that it has been essential that we take all that we have learned and make something even stronger, so 2016 has become our building year. Throughout the year we have been meeting and speaking with organizations nationally and internationally. Through these conversations we have gathered a deeper understanding of the needs of communities who are experiencing trauma and the programming needs of the organizations who serve them.
We are excited to announce that our executive director, Alexis Decosimo, will be flying to Uganda next week to speak with organizations working in South Sudanese refugee camps. According to the UNCHR the refugee crisis has reached the highest numbers on record. We have been gathering data on the psychological impact of displacement for children and families, and we have noted that in humanitarian/refugee settings the prevalence of PTSD is 15.4% and mood disorders are 17.3%, while in non humanitarian settings the rates are 7.6% and 5.3% (Tol et al, 2011). As clinicians and researchers we must wonder if the rates are actually higher due to the trauma of experiencing grief, being forced from home, and the fractures of community support.
The South Sudanese, which is the world's youngest country, has been experiencing war since 2013. According to CFR, since the war began over 50,000 people have died and 1.6 million people have been displaced due to the war. Uganda, which hosts some of the refugee camps, will be our entry into conversations about how our mission can support the refugee communities.
We have spent the last few months researching the needs and structures of a few of the refugee camps in Uganda. As with any community, we want to arrive with a foundational understanding of the community's needs and culture. It is imperative that we visit with the communities and organizations that serve them to further understand how Playing to Live! can build a program to support the healing recovery of their children.
We know as clinicians, researchers, and humans that cultural play, art, and expression can aid in the healing of trauma and war. We urge you to watch this video from New York Times, though this camp is not in Uganda nor will we be visiting it, this video shows the impact of war and the natural play that children engage in to their story.
We look forward to sharing our continued story with you
Reference: Tol, W. A., Barbui, C., Galappatti, A., Silove, D., Betancourt, T. S., Souza, R., … Van Ommeren, M. (2011). Mental health and psychosocial support in humanitarian settings: Linking practice and research. The Lancet, 378(9802), Tol, W. A., Barbui, C., Galappatti, A., Silove, D., Betancourt, T. S., Souza, R., … Van Ommeren, M. (2011). Mental health and psychosocial support in humanitarian settings: Linking practice and research. The Lancet, 378(9802),
We didn't realize how fast and big we would become. We didn't realize that the Liberian people would take our mission and make it their own. We didn't realize that in a mere year, we would have data that proved that expressive art and play are life saving. We couldn't have foreseen moving our program to South Africa and the opportunities that are arising today. All we could see was that children deserve to play and create, and we were going to do everything in our power to make it happen, and it did happen.
The image you see above is a reminder of that mission. As much as I try to value my own mission, I fall into the everyday pressures and stresses of running a business, going to school, and being human. I choose work over play more times than not. My friends and mountain family at Industry Nine have been a constant reminder of play to me throughout this journey. I ride their wheels on my mountain bike wherever I am in this world as a reminder of where my home is at.
Today as I picked up my new wheels, I saw this beautiful image, but it is so more than an image, this is OUR image. This image and this name represents so much to me, to our team, and to communities around the world, and now I have this incredible reminder every time I touch my bike, that by playing, laughing, and enjoying life, I am able to live and thrive in all that I do.
Go play! Go laugh! The world can wait for just a second for you to live and thrive.
One year ago Playing to Live! began. We cannot believe the amount of work, children and communities reached, and what has been conquered in a mere 365 days. We want to thank all the incredible volunteers, our clinical team, our partners in Liberia and South Africa, our board, and all the absolutely incredible people who have made this possible. The best way we know how to share with you about our incredible journey is to give you the break down of this last year:
And now and to the future:
We have grown exponentially throughout this year, and this is such a short snippet of what all has developed. We are looking into our second year of existence, and our excitement grows with ideas, opportunities, and continued need in high affected areas Africa and beyond. We also want to thank our special volunteer Laurel Morrison, who is in Liberia at this moment supporting the ending months of the RESH UNICEF grant.
We cannot do this without you, and we ask you for your support. We have received so many requests for services and partnerships, but we are beyond capacity in terms of funds. In order to grow we need your support. Will you be our Creative Super Hero?
Jessi returned from Liberia and we were uncertain how Playing to Live! was going to continue. At this point we had raised $1,853, something we were so grateful for but unfortunately covered very little of the costs we needed to build our program.
As we began to plan and build, we were honored and extremely grateful for the women in the ICC unit who continued our programming with the kids in isolation. We saw this as a HUGE step forward. If the people we were working with saw promise in our programming, enough to carry it on their own, we had created something that was necessary and sustainable.
Back at home we began getting an influx of Peace Corp volunteers, who had been sent home due to the epidemic. Playing to Live! was really becoming something more than anything we had ever expected and we were thrilled.
The strength of the caregivers was astonishing to me, and in 4 weeks I had new 'sisters'. We had bonded through the work, with what became a project " Playing to Live". The Ministry of Gender asked if we could consider making this into an organization that worked permanently in Liberia through the crisis. They were so happy with the work with the children.
By the start of November, what was meant to be a small project turned into an official nonprofit organization! Alexis became the founder and I the co-founder. We would finalize our activity guide with the partners who had supported us. The vision and hope was set as Ebola still waned in the country. Our story was featured by Harvard University in two articles, including: http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2014/10/life-in-quarantine/
In two months all of this happened. Return make to learn more about this adventure...
In 11 days we will be celebrating our one year Birthday, and boy are we excited!!
To prepare for this celebration we will spend the days leading up to it sharing stories from each month, so let us begin by how this all began.
This video you see started IT ALL. I (Alexis Decosimo) had spent the summer of 2014 in frequent tears of helplessness watching a country I loved fall into the trauma of Ebola. Then I saw this video!
One of the most devastating parts of watching the Ebola epidemic unfold was knowing that, due to the community fear of contracting Ebola, children were being left to grieve with little emotional support. Everyone was afraid of everyone and children were being orphaned and left without support.
As an art therapist, I saw this video as a beautiful reminder that, with the proper support, children are extremely resilient and expressive arts is an effective way of supporting their healing and resiliency.
I immediately called my comrade from my time in Liberia, Jessi Hanson, and told her we needed to find a way to bring expressive arts therapy programming to Liberia. By simply supporting communities to sing, dance, and play, we could provide ways to build resiliency and hope.
Within a few days Jessi had a plane ticket to Liberia, and I was building ideas towards what this might look like.
Stay tuned as our story continues....
Read about how we use yoga therapy, play therapy and art therapy techniques to help children in Ebola affected communities.
We have been so excited to share with you a new article about Playing to Live! that has been written by the website UP worthy. UPworthy is a positive news website and has dedicated stories to show positive programs that have come through during the Ebola crisis.
We are honored to be featured! We need your help to share our stories! We are thankful for all the support we continue to receive and continue to look for Creative Super Heroes to help us make a difference.
Come one come all! Now that I am back in the states for the month of August, my husband and I are putting on another benefit concert to continue raising funds for the music activities section for Playing To Live! We are getting more instruments made, finishing up with the parachutes and also aiming to purchase some other instruments. Through this benefit concert, we will also be sharing lots of photos and stories of Liberia and the people there who we love.
My friend Rachel and I grew up together in the same city, singing and performing in Church music and in community theatre. She is fantastic and has graciously agreed to participate with me. If you would like to attend, please RSVP to the email provided on the flyer. Thank you! See you all there for an evening of music, friends and fun.
So many wonderful things have been happening since I came back to Liberia. Alfreida and her sons worked feverishly to complete all of the instruments during the month of June while my husband and I were on holiday. They knew that I was going to start trainings in July and then travel again in August. They did it! Even with the rain making it hard for things to dry, they still did it.
Their little shop was so overflowing with shakers, drums, rhythm sticks and sansas, they even called me to ask me to pick them up! We had to make a few runs back and forth with different vehicles to fit everything. But all has finally been delivered to the RESH office except for the rest of the parachutes. Krubo has had her tailor working hard sewing beautiful multi-colored parachutes for the music activities.
I met with Jessica twice last week. We spent a few hours going through a lot of the music activities in the RESH office...it was so funny! We were jumping up and down and walking or dancing in a circle with the parachute activities, and using all of the instruments, and she was recording me singing the songs so she could listen to them and practice them. It was funny because there were other people in the office and they started singing along, and laughing and Alfred even participated in the 'Find The Egg' game. This was where he went outside for a few minutes while Jessica hid the object. We chose a song to sing while he looked for it. The louder we got, he knew he was close. The softer we were, he knew he was farther away from it. Voila! A musical treasure hunt.
Jessica is going to do great. We went over not just the activities, but the purposes behind them, questions to ask at the beginning and how to set up the activities and then how to follow up and ask questions at the end about how they felt about the activity, what thoughts came to mind;etc.
I Love You Rituals - I am really big on Conscious Discipline, as I use it religiously with my own students and others So as part of the music activities, I shared with Jessica several I love you Rituals by Dr. Becky Bailey. Ways to connect with the children, create a safe place and just have rituals of love and connection that are easy. We also went over how the P.A's themselves can model self-calming to the children.
One of the really fun things was when the little boy in the office who is about 6 or 7 years old agreed to participate in the activities as I trained Jessica. It was great to do these musical activities with a child, ask his feedback...during one of the activities, he just started posing! Eagle pose, karate pose...so instead of trying to get him to do what we were doing, we started doing what he was doing...eagle poses, switching feet, doing the activity with the pose he was showing. It was so great! He was brilliant. The purpose of that was to show Jessica that it is more important to connect with the children and validate them first, than to make sure they are doing activities correctly. Incorporating their ideas into the activities will open heart doors that might otherwise stay closed. It's all about connection and knowing 'I Am Loved, I am Safe".
Welcome to Our Blog!
We will be providing you with stories of the communities we support. The children and their caregivers featured in this blog have provided consent to share their art, pictures and stories.