The team is back from their most recent trip to Haiti and we’d love to share some of their experience with you, our friends, family, and fellow Playmakers. Take a look at the short, inspiring video capturing the remarkable collaboration between our local partner, AMURT Haiti and our team, as we held a four-day Playmaker Training Retreat for a group of 30 Haitian youth workers. Its purpose was to further develop and strengthen their abilities to bring healing play to the thousands of children they work with every day in tent cities and orphanages.
Steve will be leaving again next week to visit with the Playmakers and Haiti and provide follow-up support. As always, we’ll keep you posted about the trip!
“Pay attention to the little things, because someday you realize that the little things really are the big things.”
So, we’re going to Denmark to do another training with the Danish Red Cross, this time at the Lynge School. We’ll be working with the entire staff of teachers at this school, which teaches asylum-seeking children how to speak Danish and some other basic education while they are awaiting their “answer” from the Danish government whether they are given refugee status or instructed to return to their country of origin. The psychologist we’re working with, Hanne, who organized this training in Lynge says that most of the children lately are coming from Afghanistan and Chechnya, and that the journeys for so many of these children are quite traumatizing. And we haven’t even begun to hear about what they experienced before they took those journeys. That’s what we’ll be doing for the next four days, but the story for today is about the first few moments in Boston Logan Airport’s International terminal. I arrived with our two HUGE yellow duffel bags with all our training equipment for the trip. Steve and Jodi had already checked in and gone through security, as they had arrived before me at the airport.
Because I can’t check in three bags of my own, I had to call Steve and have him come back out through security to check one of the bags on his ticket. We met at the ticket counter and waited for our turn. A happy-looking man waved us over. I handed him my passport to check in and said, “Hi.” Steve said, “How you doin’ brother?” Ismail replied politely and asked if I was checking in. He also explained to us about the number of bags we can check and how much it will cost for the number we have. Then he weighed the bags. There’s always a weight limit. And we always pack heavy! So, he prints my boarding pass and then shows us the ticket for the bags…and then he leans in over the counter and motions to us to do the same. He confidently whispered to us, with a genuine smile on his face, “Now, normally your bags cost $50 each, but if they are over the weight limit it is an additional $100 per bag. And both of your bags are way over the limit. But I’m only going to charge you for the cost of the bags and I’ll tell you why I’m going to do that. Because when you walked up here, this man said, ‘How you doin’ brother?’ That means something and it makes a connection. You called me brother, and I’ll do this for you.”
Hey, working for a non-profit, it’s nice to save a buck or two when the right person is able to waive a fee. But when we think about what really happened at that ticket counter, we didn’t just save some money—we made a connection. And our brothers and sisters are everywhere: behind ticket counters, serving food, working at asylum schools, leading NGOs, and a million other places where they can make a difference in our days in very significant ways. And all it takes sometimes to open that door and make a difference in their day is to ask, “How you doin’ brother?”
In 2008 Project Joy began collaborating with the Connecticut Department of Children and Families to offer training for direct care and clinical staff. On March 9th, AntiEm (a.k.a. Ant and Emily) drove to Connecticut to facilitate a one-day booster training for 45 Playmakers from DCF.
The day was filled with life, energy, and many fruitful questions and answers. The Connecticut Playmakers were in joyful form and ready to recharge their playfulness with new games and ideas, many of which came from the Playmakers themselves. The discussion included game variations for younger and older children, dealing with difficult individuals, and the importance of ground rules and appropriate consequences.
We were able to cover a lot of topics in a short window of time. When all was said and done, everyone left expressing a renewed sense of playfulness. I was proud to hear that, especially since all the Playmakers had to be back at their sites and working with their kids by 2pm that afternoon.
While working with Amurt Haiti, a local NGO based in Haiti this past March, I accompanied Dr. Jose Hidalgo of Boston’s Latin American Health Institute and a medical team of Haitian nurses and assistants to a small tent city in Port-au-Prince. There the team set up a makeshift clinic to attend to the overwhelming medical needs of the hundreds of people who had been forced to call that barren pile of broken glass, mud and rubble home. Using an old table and two chairs for an examination table, shaded by a jury-rigged plastic tarp, our small volunteer medical team saw hundreds of adults and children. Armed with nothing but their expertise and a suitcase full of donated medicines, they treated severe skin infections, diarrhea, pneumonia, ear infections and a host of other illnesses.
My own work was of a different nature. When I unrolled a colorful play parachute and gently invited a few children who were awaiting treatment to play, I was soon surrounded by more than seventy children who were desperately hungry to join hands and play. For over an hour we joyfully participated in simple games of singing, sharing, imagination and laughter. I saw this remarkable response repeated in other camps as well. Sick, hungry, thirsty, surrounded by physical signs of devastation and traumatized by loss, the children could not resist the desire to play, connect, move together and express joy.
The experience illustrates the critical, complementary work required to begin to rebuild a devastated Haiti. While medical relief efforts must continue to heal broken bones and massive construction projects are needed to rebuild entire communities, attention must also be given to healing and strengthening children whose lives have been deeply impacted by fear and trauma. After all, Haiti’s future, perhaps to a greater extent than any other nation’s, is in the hands of its children. Children under eighteen years of age comprise approximately half of Haiti’s population of over 9 million and have been disproportionally impacted by the tragedy, with many homeless and suffering the loss of parents as well as entire families. The acute trauma of natural disaster has now been added to lives already damaged by the chronic trauma of extreme poverty. Amazingly, Haitian children can almost manage to mask this enormous pain with their loving smiles. But a closer look, especially when they don’t suspect they are being observed, reveals the pain. It runs deep. It waits to be addressed.
Play is an essential part of the healing process for children suffering from overwhelming loss and trauma. Empowering, joyful play guided by sensitive, caring adults can restore what trauma violently strips from a child — trust, connection, empowerment, creativity, and feelings of joy and optimism. These are the ingredients necessary to learn and grow into healthy, happy and productive adults. For the past decade my team and I, first as part of a grassroots organization called Project Joy, and now as the action arm of the Life is good Kids Foundation, have been training and supporting thousands of local, frontline childcare providers and medical professionals who use playful engagement to help the most vulnerable children heal. Along the Mississippi Gulf Coast following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, in Denmark where child refugees of war in Iraq and Afghanistan try to recover from the terror and destruction of those conflicts, and in dozens of communities across America where violence and poverty prevail, these frontline care providers are experiencing the restorative power of joyful play on the hearts and minds of the children in their care.
Our team is working to apply this learning to Haiti by equipping Haitian youth workers and other relief personnel with the tools and means to heal and strengthen children through joyful play. We implore strategic planners and policymakers with greater resources and capacity than we possess not to overlook this critical point. With proper medical care, physical wounds will heal. With proper tending to the social and emotional needs of children, including their unquenchable desire to engage in joyful play, the wounds of trauma can heal as well, allowing the present generation of Haitian children to assume the lead role in the successful long-term development of their long-suffering yet astonishingly optimistic nation.