Message about Focusing in Suriname - South America
from Marta Stapert, the Netherlands, Coordinator for Children’s Focusing Corner


I would like to share some of the impressive and rich experiences we had this time in Suriname. We were there previously in 1990, 1992 and May 2000. I'm so happy that my husband Ynse and I are doing this work together.

Suriname is a former Dutch colony in the northern part of South America. This month they celebrated 25 years of independence. It is a huge and beautiful country with only 450.000 inhabitants. Life was and still is a big struggle for them. There are few very rich people and there is a lot of poverty.

Because of the multi-ethnic society, Dutch is still the common and official language. Children need to learn it in school. From the age of 9 we can more or less understand each other! You should however take into account Dutch is their second language.

We did not only meet the middle and upper class people of Paramaribo; we also met the maroons, the former slaves from Africa, who fled in the middle of the 19th century into the jungle of Suriname. The maroons we met are living deep in the beautiful jungle along the river in a village of about 350 inhabitants. The village can only be reached by boat.  Here they live without anything that belongs to modern civilization. No water from the tap, electricity, gas, or toilet-facilities. They sleep in hammocks. There are no schools, supermarkets or shops. It was unbelievable how we lived there for a couple of days. It was quiet and peaceful with the inhabitants. We bathed and played with the children in the river.

I would like to describe how we worked with Focusing in Paramaribo, and in this jungle-village Gingiston with the question:  “How does Focusing work with people from different cultures?” 


What we did in Paramaribo

- We trained a level 1 focusing-group, 11 people

- We trained a level 2 focusing-group, 13 people

- 6 people from these groups want to become focusing trainers.
  We made a long-term program.

- We ran introductory sessions to focusing,
  this time for professional high school teachers.

We will train next November 50 teachers (in 3 groups) how to integrate Focusing in the classroom for themselves, for the students and as a training-program in high school.

After the first introduction to focusing for a team of 18 women from an Institute (intern) for 40 sexually abused and mistreated children; they immediately started to work with what they had learned. The group-leader participated in the role-playing, as a boy she had difficulty approaching. She then worked again that afternoon with the boy, with an amazing change in behavior!

I will describe some sentences from this role-play, which we did after only 1 hour of introduction to Focusing.

Hortance describes briefly  9-year-old Ronald as longtime, severely abused by 2 other  boys. He is  withdrawn from group-leaders and children. Other children do not like him, because he is always dirty and wet. He sucks his shirt continuously, pulling it and  putting a big part in his mouth. Doing this he seems absent.

We sit on the floor, drawing/coloring-materials at hand. After waiting a little bit I reflect:

M: you are putting your shirt in your mouth…

H: is just looking

M: maybe something in your mouth needs to suck on your shirt…

H: is looking a little bit more interested

M: maybe this feeling in your mouth has a color

H: takes the red, and makes some lines, hesitating

M: sometimes your mouth wants to get rid of a terrible feeling as if something came inside…

H: a quivering movement goes through the body. She takes the black color and start with firm lines through the red. She puts the crayon down and says, "It is o.k."

The group sighed and was touched.  Sentences that came: It is not useful to say don’t suck… behavior has more meaning than I thought…being honest towards him…being  with him in this way gives him courage to explore…not doing but letting it happen… he didn’t even speak, and we saw how much happened…

Hortance wrote me soon when we were home the next message. (my translation).

The reader should be aware Hortance has only 2 hours training in Focusing!

I could hardly wait to be with Ronald in the way I learned through the role-playing we did together. I will describe what happened.

H: can you describe your  feeling when you are  sucking your shirt

R: it is a feeling as if penis is in my mouth, and doing so feels good and gives me a quiet feeling

H: can you describe how it feels inside when others react on your sucking

R: I don’t like it…it is disturbing me…I can understand others dislike this dirty sucking…but I can’t help it…it always happens by itself…without my finger and shirt in my mouth feels  so big and empty and that doesn’t feel nice.

After that I started focusing:

H: Could you draw how you feel inside today

R is drawing with yellow colors the 2  boys who abused him

H: How does your mouth feel without  your finger in it…which color belongs to that feeling

R is drawing with red a huge big mouth. After that he says: I don’t like the sucking any more…I would like to stop the sucking…I can’t draw that…

R takes the drawing of the sucking feeling with him, and he is stroking it in circumstances can’t or may not suck. He is open now for  making  an agreement:  he will be aware of the sucking in school,  when he is talking, and when he doing something with his hands.

Up till now it works out fine, and he accepts help, a warning when he forget it.

It gives him a good feeling now to get rid of the sucking habit.

We will be training this team again in November 2001.  You can imagine how we are looking forward to continue with this work.


Continuation of our program

Ynse gave an advanced training to a group of supervisors

I guided several times individual focusing-sessions with adults

2 times I worked with a boy of 4 years old who hardly spoke any words. The goal was to show / teach the parents how they could be and work with him. The mother was in the basic focusing-course.
Ynse videotaped both sessions.  (2 times 30 to 45 minutes). It brought us a beautiful videotape.
With Matthew I combined drawing / coloring and helping to be with his bodily feelings, through bodily contact, moving, holding, touching, and struggling. In this way he could do what his body needed to do, to be with his angry, anxious feelings.
During the second session Matthew and his parents were involved in a speech-learning process, that hadn’t ever taken place in that way before.
The second session ended with romping with his father in a very symbolic, meaningful way: Matthew pushed a cloth in his father’s mouth and the other part in his own mouth. They pulled carefully at both ends, and had a lot of joy together.


What we did in the maroon-village

Under the trees of the jungle in the middle of a little village of 350 inhabitants, we did focusing with more than 40 children of all ages. We sat on trunks of trees, with the captain behind me as an authority. The teacher Michel Linga sat next to me for translating in the Saramaccan language of the maroons for the young children and the young mothers around with their babies on their hip. We did drawing from their inside feelings. For each child we brought small drawing-cahiers and crayons.

I asked them to call/shout their names loud out. After some hesitation and encouragement by teacher Michel they overcame their shyness and started to shout. Fun started. I asked them how their name looked like inside, and to draw this on the cahier and to decorate their name.

I asked them what happens inside when they feel good…happy. I showed with my hands where in my body my good feeling of this moment was...I asked them to show their happy feeling…which color or colors belong to this feeling…what their hand might draw from that feeling…to make it stronger.

They started to draw houses, trees, flowers and fish. It is the world they live in.

They were so quiet and concentrating with so many people around, that I took courage to ask another question. With introductory remarks and examples I asked:” Sometimes we are angry…sad…anxious…Where do you notice this in your body?…which color …colors belong to that feeling?…could your hand draw this on your next page?…

Rather soon one of the elder boys came to me to show the picture in black and dark blue of a boat. He told me that they each morning and afternoon go to school at the other side of the river, and the children need to row the boat with one adult man. This is heavy and each day a burden.  I was amazed that one after the other came to show his or her picture of their rowing boat. Again it was the reality of their young lives from their feelings.

In the meantime a baby about 9 months old started to cry. The young mother sat next to me, also a drawing–cahier on her lap. The baby disturbed her and she started to shout at him and to shake his body.  I asked her I could hold the baby and I stroke his head and said only: “Something inside needs to cry”. He almost immediately became quiet, settled himself on my lap, and fell asleep, with flies around his eyes and nose.

The whole session took about half an hour. It touched me very deeply.

The next day we went with the boat to the other side of the river to Michel’s Christian school of the Evangelical Brotherhood Community. I got the opportunity to do the Focusing program again with children of his class.

We didn’t have any more drawing-materials left. They didn’t have any drawing materials with them, because it was the last day before the Christmas-holidays.

After exploring bad, heavy feelings, touching their body, and putting them on an imaginary shelf in front of the classroom, I asked them to draw their good feelings on the blackboard, 4 children at the same time. Here again they expressed their reality with houses, trees,  Christmas-trees, candles, catching fish. They were proud of their common blackboard-presentation.

Later on Michel’s son Silvian, 13 years old, accompanied us. I asked him what he had understood from the drawing. He said, a little bit shy: "Yes, I can feel everything."

I asked him how he felt inside when he started to guide us through his village. He said how cramped he felt in his stomach. He showed it with his hands, and said it still wasn’t quiet. We stood under the mango-tree at the border of their “soccer-field”.

Marta:    You could quietly listen to this feeling, being friendly with it…

.Silvian:   It is so strange…

Marta:    So strange…

Silvian:   I’m not used to do this guiding around the village…

Marta:    It is strange for you to bring us around…

Silvian:   Not knowing if I do this right…

Marta:    You are not sure if you are doing right…and you feel it as a cramp in your stomach…

Silvian:   It is already better now…

Marta:    Already better, just by listening to it…could  you ask if it needs something at this moment…

Silvian:   I don’t need to be so shy…it is alright…we are going to play soccer on second Christmas-day…

Is there any difference … Focusing with a boy in a village in the jungle or my grandson of the same age in a Dutch town?  I didn’t feel any difference … just inviting and staying with the inner felt feeling … accepting whatever comes …

In the evening under the bright stars and with fire-flies shining/glowing in the dark, Michel, Silvian, Ynse and I sat under the trees.  The feedback Michel gave us showed how he understands the Focusing with children we did.

Michel asked us if we would also give training to the teachers of his school when we come back.  He really understands the different approach, working from the inside out.

Michel promised to use the imaginary shelf, so the children can put their heavy, nasty things outside, to create an open clear space inside, that they can use for creative learning.