Many of you have asked that I share my experience during my recent trip to The Ranfurly Home for Children in Nassau, Bahamas. Here is a glimpse..........
With each passing day that we learned more about the devastation in The Bahamas as a result of Hurricane Dorian, our collective hearts sank. We here in south Florida have close bonds with our Bahamian neighbors; some visit there regularly, others own property, some have friends and family that reside in those beautiful Islands. My connection to Nassau, Bahamas actually originated many generations ago, when a small Greek Orthodox church was established to meet the spiritual needs of Orthodox Christians living and visiting Nassau. Since then, visitors have been warmly welcomed and more personally, my family has been invited to feel like a member of their family, every time we meet.
The Ranfurly Home for Children, http://www.ranfurlyhome.org is run by loving, generous individuals who care for the most needy of children in The Bahamas. The week leading up to my visit, I was in communication with staff there, asking about their needs and offering to send supplies and donations. It became evident that what the children needed, in addition to the tangible items, was support with hands-on physical and mental health. The wonderful staff and counselors at Ranfurly magnanimously agreed to accept the displaced children from the Grand Bahamas Home for Children https://www.gbchildrenshome.com knowing full well what an incredible challenge that would be. The children that arrived at Ranfurly represented more than 2/3 of the children that had resided at the Grand Bahamas Children’s Home prior to the Hurricane. The Ranfurly Home more than doubled in size, overnight. Everyone was scrambling to construct and install bunk beds, provide clothing, food, toiletries, and linens for the additional children. Most came with only what they were wearing. Many needed medical attention for physical ailments and all needed mental health support for the trauma that they had just witnessed, in addition to whatever past trauma had brought them to the children’s home to begin with.
At this point, I realized that in addition to the tangible items that were desperately needed, I was able to offer myself, even for a short time. The staff at Ranfurly Home approved my short visit and I was on a plane the next day. I spent every waking moment at the home and with the children and staff. I provided an extra set of hands wherever needed. I moved boxes of donations and organized bedrooms and play areas. I shared stories, arts and craft time and meals with the children. Bedtime was challenging in many ways and for many reasons, but having an extra adult to help with stories, prayers, songs and reassurance was my job during those hours. I brought my knowledge and experience of childhood fear, anxiety and trauma to the staff, and offered materials and information to help guide them moving forward. I intervened on several occasions when children became angry, frightened or experienced traumatic memories of past events. But one of my most heartwarming experiences during the 72 hours I spent with the children of Ranfurly Home was with an 11 year old girl. This loving child was being perceived as clingy, and annoying and intrusive by the other children and even the staff at times because she desperately needed reassurance, attention, physical touch and unconditional love. Children ignored her and pushed her away when what she was trying to do was create connection with them.
She stared blankly at me when I told her about “personal space” and demonstrated how to leave an “invisible bubble” around each person she encountered. We role-played how to ask for a hug or high five and how to respond appropriately if her request was turned down. I wasn’t certain that she’d even understood what I was trying to say, as she obediently answered “yes, Ma’am” to everything I said.
With only a few hours remaining before I left, she came up to me, stood the appropriate distance from me and smiled brightly, “Can I have a hug?” I smiled back and answered her “yes, you may. Thank you for asking!” Then after stepping back to an appropriate distance, she spontaneously thanked me for “teachin’ me how to ‘ask’ for a hug; now the other children like me”.
If you would like to help support these wonderful children and staff at the Raunfurly Home for Children, particularly in the long term mental health trauma treatment they need, please consider a donation to them by clicking one of the links below.