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For When Your Small Dreams CAN Bring Life to Others
Posted on Aug 09, 2018 Topic : Women's Christian Living
Posted by : Lenya Heitzig
At Reload Love, the nonprofit I founded to impact the lives of children affected by terrorism, we had a dream to leave something tangible behind for the people of the communities we sought to help. That something became turning battlegrounds into playgrounds
We built our first playground on the Navajo Nation reservation in New Mexico as a way of helping children living in poverty in our home state before expanding to other countries. In Sinjar province, Iraq, we have built seven playgrounds. It might seem small, but it’s something.
On every playground is a banner with the word of Jesus, “Let the little children come to me” (Matthew 19:14). On every playground, children return to something like normal life. On every playground, they swing, spin, slide, and every time they do, they forget, if only for an instant, the terror they have seen.
Sometimes people ask, “Why playgrounds? There are many needs. Why not food, water, or clothing?” I used to say, the ministry of presence, a break for mothers, playgrounds cannot contribute to a false economy, but now I’ve stood on these playgrounds watching traumatized children play and I’ve seen their worth.
Professionals say there are protocols to help children recover from trauma. I call it the CAN method. It doesn’t matter if the child has experienced trauma at the hands of a gang in Chicago, a family member in New Mexico, or an ISIS terrorist in Iraq. These steps help them recover as quickly and effectively as possible.
Calm. The child needs to rediscover safety and security, which is why we partner with organizations to create safe spaces. When kids are taken out of harm’s way, they need to feel safe, whether a classroom, a music room, or a playground. Playgrounds give children the opportunity to deescalate the terror they felt in their lives.
Acknowledgment. Give children validation that what happened to them actually happened and reinforce that it was not their fault. They didn’t create it. They aren’t the bad guys. Children need to understand that they do not deserve the terror and trauma and treatment they have experienced.
Normalcy. If children return to a state of normalcy, their hearts have a chance to heal, to return to something like the way they were before experiencing terror. Maybe it’s kicking a soccer ball. Maybe it’s cooking a meal. Whatever it is, returning to something normal helps them imagine something better for their life, now and in the future.
I know that CAN works. I used the steps with my own grandchildren after my son was in a motorcycle accident.
Calm: First I took control of myself and the situation as I helped my daughter-in-law load the children into my car. After their mother went to check on their father, I turned to the kids.
“Let’s pray,” I said because I didn’t know what else to do, and to acknowledge the problem.
Acknowledgment: I started praying and they were still crying, but then my grandson said, “I have an idea. Mimi, we’re going to pray and ask Jesus if Daddy is okay.”
So he prayed and after a short pause asked, “Mimi, what does ‘amen’ mean?”
“It means you agree with the prayer.”
“Okay, Mimi, say amen.”
“Amen,” I said.
Normalcy: We got to my house and did what we always did. We played in the hot tub. I tried to reintroduce normal life into that chaotic, scary situation.
Just as I helped my grandkids in trauma, playgrounds can help meet these need for children. Swings are soothing, rocking children the way they were rocked as a baby. If you don’t have your mother’s arms or are missing a family member, a swing is marvelous. The thrill of a slide can help you forget your pain, if only for a moment. Chasing your friends around the playground can reintroduce normalcy into your life.
CAN is the way forward for these children. Playgrounds can be part of the answer.
At one of our playgrounds in Sinjar city, I slowly drift back and forth on a swing. I feel like a little girl again. I look around and try to imagine this city alive again. I try to see the city through hopeful eyes. I imagine children on the swings, sliding down the slides. I imagine them seeing Jesus’ name for the first time.
At a stop at another playground in a refugee camp, the children come from every direction. They never stop coming, not while we sing, not while we tell Bible stories. Word radiates out through the camp, and they keep coming. They are still coming, even as we load the van and drive away. It is hard to leave, to give them what feels like so little.
Looking back through the square windows of the van, I see the playground, the children still chasing each other, and know we leave behind something greater: hope, and the name of Jesus.