Volunteering: Women's Healing Circle
Last fall, four volunteers - Sharon Katz, Susan Lamberson, Michele Tae and Debra Mulnick joined with the IRC in Boise to create the Women’s Healing Circle. The purpose of the project is to address the residual mental health problems experienced by refugees due to the trauma they have experienced and due to the stresses of resettlement. The centerpiece of the program is teaching self-care through various mind-body practices to strengthen each individual to care for themselves.
The program has helped transform the women in many ways but as Sharon Katz says "we have watched the refugee women grow as we work with them every week. At first they were hesitant and shy, but now they eagerly participate and laugh with us. One of our program goals was to increase the women’s confidence; now, when we go around the circle and introduce ourselves at the beginning of the hour, each woman clearly and confidently enunciates, “My name is…” Even as we have engaged them, they have engaged us.
During our healing circle, we sit together, learn together, and put no pressure on anyone to do the exercises in the ‘right’ way. We share knowledge we have about different mind-body practices and teach tools for self-healing to these women. In our actions we give them permission to care for themselves. During the last part of class, the women have the opportunity to pass on knowledge from their own cultures. We have joined them in singing, dancing and drumming. We want to learn, and they are willing to teach us.
Several of our group members speak for all of us about our experiences. Susan Lamberson says, “I have grown personally, bonded with the women in the program, and watched them relax into something that feeds their bodies and minds, and especially their spirits.” Sharon Katz says, “I look forward to coming each week to be with these brave women. I feel privileged to be allowed into their lives. It is so gratifying to see the changes and growth each time that I have a big smile on my face for the rest of the day after being with them. They are not the only ones being healed by this experience.”
Michele Tae says, “Volunteering with the refugee women gives me insights into the particular challenges of moving to a foreign country. These insights enrich my life in many ways: most notably, an appreciation for how easy it is to take for granted the simple things, like reading street signs and understanding directions, and how much diligence and courage it takes to persevere - to repeatedly begin anew. I am so inspired by the physical presence of these refugee women, their smiles, their laughter, their willingness to learn so many new ways to live their lives. I see that some days are difficult, and there are sad faces…I cannot know the struggle yet can offer my own smile and a wish for their well-being. When one of the refugees shares a song in their native language, I am delighted and again, so enriched. The time I volunteer is a gift to myself and to the world I wish to create—a world of cultural diversity, rich with so many ways to form a community.”