Guest blog: The embodiment of resilience
Along with our partners at Panzi Hospital and Foundations, we are honoured to have been selected to take part in ELRHA and the Humanitarian Innovation Fund (HIF)’s Journey to Scale. After a recent visit to our Healing in Harmony music therapy program at Panzi Hospital, our HIF representative shared these thoughts with us.
As I left the studio after today’s session with the early cohort of girls and women, some of whom were still undergoing reconstructive surgery from their ordeals, I was overwhelmed. The girls and women that walked uncertainly into the studio, none of them really knowing each other, sat down. Some looked around uncertainly, others with their babies were tending to their needs, others were uncomfortably pregnant in the heat and others appeared almost catatonic and completely disengaged.
There was also no electricity so Justin had to rely on his personal skills as Maison Dorcas’ psychotherapist and Jojo improvised providing background music via his phone – a delicate and soothing rhythm – very quiet but a bit like a calming earworm.
“Those that appeared strong at the start, bowed their heads and wiped their tears with their beautiful dresses; those that appeared catatonic started to talk.”
Justin brought the room together – he introduced me, as a complete stranger and asked if they were ok with me being there. I would have been out there like a shot if they weren’t. Darcy they knew and trusted.
After the warm up, Justin was obviously asking the girls to speak of their experiences if they were comfortable doing so. There were many silences but gradually they started to speak and as they did so, others in the group could clearly identify with the experiences. This brought them together as a new group. The electricity then came on and more music was introduced, different rhythms – and the stories kept coming. Note books were handed out as they were encouraged to write down their feelings if they were not able to vocalise them. There were a few that caught my eye – writing intensely – there were others who did nothing and gazed into the distance.
As the session progressed and more of the girls started to vocalise their experiences, others in the room broke down. Those that appeared strong at the start, bowed their heads and wiped their tears with their beautiful dresses; those that appeared catatonic started to talk. All the time the music was playing in the background. Jojo measuring the appropriate level, Justin listening to their experiences.
“…a community was starting to build and it was extraordinary to watch.”
As a middle aged, middle class, white woman with two daughters probably older than most of those in the room, I had never been in the presence of such raw suffering – the pain that was coming out of these girls was palpable. I couldn’t understand their stories but to be honest am not sure I could have coped if I could – their strength as they told their stories was astounding. As the session moved on, the level of engagement increased. Babies were exchanged as some wanted to write things down, or were too distressed to look after them – a community was starting to build and it was extraordinary to watch.
I felt really humbled, moved but guilty as voyeur – they were, however, completely oblivious to me thank goodness.
At the end of the session, those that had appeared catatonic were smiling and engaging with those next to them. They had all come together in that short space of time, and through the gentle use of music, empathy and collaboration the majority left smiling or laughing, chatting with others.
It was a very different level of energy than that which I saw at the start of the session and it seemed like magic. Many of the girls had a more confident bearing, their faces had changed shape, they were standing taller and they seemed to have a sense of purpose.
I can honestly say that I have never seen anything like it. We at the HIF require a more quantified evidence base, which Make Music Matter, Maison Dorcas, Panzi and partners are working on, but if more people could sit in the room I sat in this morning, they would see the evidence for themselves.
It was truly extraordinary and very, very moving. This project demonstrated that it is making a real difference to real people in a relatively short space of time, thanks to the talent, skills and commitment of those at Panzi, Maison Dorcas and Make Music Matter.
“What I saw today embodies what I understand to be resilience – the ability to acknowledge one’s trauma and move on to be a stronger person.”
I was also struck by the level of resilience at so many levels. We in the UK, US and Europe bandy the word resilience around, none of us entirely sure of its precise meaning. What I saw today embodies what I understand to be resilience – the ability to acknowledge one’s trauma and move on to be a stronger person. That’s what I saw in these very young women today – after only two hours. The Panzi and Healing in Harmony programme works with survivors for months to fully ensure they are able to integrate and continue their valued lives as mothers, sisters, daughters, wives and role models to others.
Since coming to the Congo, I have heard the phrase ‘They don’t care’ several times, in reference to the government. This is certainly not the case when it comes to the continued commitment and care provided at this extraordinary establishment in what is acknowledged by most who understand it, as one of the most challenging environments in the world.
Thank you to the team at the Humanitarian Innovation Fund for their continued support in helping us to grow our Healing in Harmony music therapy program!