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Focusing with Children in the Surinam Jungle

by Marta Stapert, Coordinator for Netherlands, Hungary, and for the Children's Corner

Marta Stapert doing a Focusing exercise with children in a Surinam jungle clearing. She is giving a four day residential workshop to train Focusing teachers for the Children's Focusing Team, June 29 to July 11 in New York.
Contact her at stapert-schardam@compuserve.com.

Surinam is a former Dutch colony in the Northern part of South America. It is a huge and beautiful country with only 450.000 inhabitants. They have a big struggle for life. There are a few very rich people, and a lot of poverty. Dutch is still the common and official language. Children learn it in school as their second language.

We met not only the middle- and upper-class people of Paramaribo, but also the Maroons, the former slaves from Africa who fled in the middle of the 19th century into the jungle. The Maroons we met live deep in the beautiful jungle along the river in a village of about 350 inhabitants which can only be reached by boat. Here they live without modern civilization: no water from the tap, electricity or gas, no toilet-facilities, sleeping in hammocks, no school, no supermarket or shop. We lived there for several days--quiet, peaceful, bathing and playing with the children in the river. I would like to describe how we worked in this jungle-village, Gingeston. How does Focusing work with people from such a different culture?

Under the trees in the middle of the little village, we did Focusing with more than 40 children of all ages, sitting on trunks of trees, with the captain behind me as authority, and the teacher Michel Linga next to me for translating in the Saramaccan language for the young children. The young mothers sat with their babies on their hips. 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 out loud. 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 inside them, 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, fishes. It is the world they live in.

They were so quiet and concentrated 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 you draw this on your next page. ‘ Soon one of the elder boys came to me to show a picture in black and dark blue of a boat. He told me that each morning and afternoon they go to school at the other side of the river, and the children need to row the boat, with the help of one adult man. This is difficult and each day a burden. I was amazed that one after the other came to show his or her picture of rowing the boat. Again it was the reality of their young lives from their feelings.

A baby 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 him and to shake his body. I asked her if I could hold the baby and I stroked 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 on the boat to the other side of the river to Michel's school. I got to do the Focusing program with children of his class. After exploring bad, heavy feelings, and putting them on an imaginary shelf in front of the classroom, I asked them to draw their good feelings on the blackboard, four 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 13 year old son 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 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 sense...accepting whatever comes.

In the evening under bright stars, with fire-flies shining in the dark, Michel, Silvian, Ynse and I sat under the trees. Michel asked us to train his teachers when we come back. He 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 and create an open, clear space inside which they can use for creative learning.

To read more about what we did in Paramaribo and also the report from the Children's Conference in Hungary and our work in Romania, please go to the Children's Corner from the home page of the web site. Six people from Paramaribo will become Focusing Trainers. Also we have been invited to develop focusing-child psychotherapy training for all psychologists in Romania who work with children.

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