Caring in Cameroon

search    10443980_1029035760443758_744098783317545831_n     search

When we observe anything in this world, our perspective is tightly interconnected with our cultural context. As we grow from the egocentrism of childhood to a more expansive view as adults, we may see that not everyone comes from our circumstances, shares our belief system or our way of doing things. At the age of 52, I was a late bloomer in my foray into other cultures. But travel to New Zealand and the Palestinian Territories in 2014, and speaking at the first International Summit on Pediatric Psychosocial Services began a process that continues today. I have learned that “Child Life” has many names and forms across the globe.

As I cast a wide net with my blog, trying to see how I can do the most good, it occurred to me that I could use it as a platform for getting out the good word about what people are doing in other countries to make life better for children in and out of hospitals. So every so often, I will choose a country and share the story of a colleague who is holding the torch of kindness to dispel the darkness of fear and pain for sick children.

My first spotlight is on Macdonald Doh, my honorary son and a head nurse in the Emergency Department of the Yaounde Gynaeco-Obstetrics and Pediatric Hospital in Cameroon, Africa. I met him at the CLC Summit where he represented his country along with 45 delegates from all over the world.  In Cameroon, there is one doctor to every 10,000 people, as compared with 2.4 doctors per 1,000 in the USA. Continue reading

Tilling

imgres-2

A cluster of school children spill onto the bridle path from an entrance on the upper west side of Manhattan. They emanate pent-up energy and their voices crescendo as they discover the reservoir vista. I register some mild annoyance at their squealing, but it only takes me a moment to recalibrate and appreciate their excitement. They overtake me and I walk for a bit beside the noisy group, eavesdropping on their exuberance and their teacher’s failing attempts to curtail it.

“Stop walking that way. Walk like this. Pick up your feet!” Continue reading

The Box

imgres-1

 Juan was a 7-year-old, sturdy kid with shortly-cropped black hair in the first grade at an inner city public school. Juan’ teacher asked me to work with him on his social skills and impulsivity. My mode of working with children is based on the principles of the child-centered approach, which calls for unconditional positive regard for the child and trust in the child’s ability to find his own way towards healing. This removes the adult-driven agenda as one creates an emotionally supportive play space in which the child explores avenues of his own healing.

The first time I brought Juan into the playroom, he knew exactly what to do.

The toys in my portable play toolkit were chosen to encourage expressive and dramatic play: human figures, rescue vehicles, a toy medical kit, crayons, and playdough. During our weekly sessions, the room itself became part of the play space as well, with its piles of school materials. Each session, Juan would initiate play and instruct me how to play. I served as a willing participant, but I strove to remain in a subservient role, allowing him to direct my actions to suit his needs. I acted as both participant and witness, narrating his play and giving words to the emotions that he played out before me.

Themes emerged, as did routines. One in particular was a challenge for me. At the end of every session, he would avoid putting a stop to his play and refuse to return to the classroom. He would hide behind furniture and boxes, making me feel like an ogre as I prodded and cajoled him out the door. Continue reading