Caring for the Caregivers
Ana Rangel, an International Volunteer at NPH Honduras, began an initiative to help the staff members who provide care for the children.
Creative Therapist/International Volunteer, NPH Honduras
August 15, 2022
I moved to Honduras a year ago and have been working as the creative therapist at Rancho Santa Fe. This entails working with the children, adolescents, the elderly, and caregivers. Therapy is a process in which you begin to explore your old patterns and habits and to discern those that are no longer serving you, while equipping yourself with more helpful coping skills to add to your toolbox. Unfortunately many of us are not taught how to notice, label, or effectively express our emotions. For that reason and many more the role of creative therapist is one that is extremely important. Combining art with therapy as a way to communicate your inner world does wonders, especially when using words is difficult.
Being in this role has been a very intense but rewarding experience. Most of the children from el Rancho Santa Fe come from traumatic backgrounds before getting here and that can be easy to forget, especially when you’ve built personal relationships with them. In therapy, you realize that they don’t know how to express themselves properly and most of them have trust issues. As a professional you have to break down the walls they have built to protect themselves. Since being the creative therapist, I’ve had children walk out on me during sessions more than once. What’s important during situations like these is to always remember that it’s not personal. Through this experience, I’ve had the privilege to show individuals that therapy isn’t scary. That therapy is a place where they can be unapologetically open about who they are and how they feel. Of course, there are days where I’ve felt defeated, but on days like those, the love I have for the children and my job gives me the strength to keep going. There are no words to accurately describe how one-of-a-kind this experience is or how it has changed my life. If I could do it all over again I would in a heartbeat. Anyone who can volunteer in this role should definitely apply.
A fundamental piece of the NPH family is the caregivers. They are the ones that spend the most time with the children and are responsible for creating a healthy living dynamic. This applies to the caregivers on el Rancho Santa Fe and Casa de los Ángeles, the NPH home for children with extreme special needs in Tegucigalpa. If it weren’t for them, it would be impossible to care for all the children of NPH Honduras. They pour so much of their love, wisdom, and time in the children. For that reason and many more it is important for us to care for the caregivers.
The goal of this project is to provide the caretakers with a safe space where their only focus is on themselves and their mental health. Having them engage in mental-health activities allow them to live in the present, become more self-aware, and de-stress from everyday responsibilities.
Each of the seven sessions was designed with the purpose of having the caregivers explore themselves on a deeper level and allowing them to feel more connected to themselves and their colleagues. These activities help teach the caregivers to let go of control and embrace the imperfections of life. In one activity, the caretakers were paired up and asked to draw/paint their happy place using their non-dominant hand. The objective was to work collaboratively, let loose, and take them to a place that brings them joy. Another activity was focused on identity and values. The caregivers were instructed to each draw a superhero logo that represents them in the world. They used symbols, colors, and phrases they connected with to express themselves. Afterwards they all shared their work of art with the team and explained their story. There were also activities focused on mindfulness, therapeutic letter writing, clay therapy, and stages of grief.
Many of the more than 25 caretakers who participated expressed that they were nervous going into their first activity because they didn’t know what to expect. Others feared not having the artistic abilities to participate. As a team, we concluded that their fears stemmed from their insecurities and from not taking the time to take care of themselves. Fear aside, all the caretakers were extremely happy that they had a space they could call their own: they expressed gratitude for promoting the importance of their own mental health and allowing them to engage in self-care. They also stated that knowing yourself and being honest with your own feelings can be uncomfortable, but worth it. In maintaining good mental health among the caregivers, we are also promoting healthier relationships with the kids, coworkers, and their loved ones.
Interested in volunteering like Ana? We are still looking for qualified applicants for our January departure group, so please apply at https://www.nph.org/volunteer/ no later than September 1st. If you are interested in applying for our July-departure, please apply by January 1st, 2023!
Photo above: Ana and a child at NPH Honduras. Photos below: caregivers participating in workshop activities.