Time has flown by this year and I wanted to pause and reflect on the power of integrating presence into our lives. With the recent launch of the Heart Surgery Mindfulness Kit, we are beginning to do events nationally so that we can soothe and nurture more hearts across the globe. It has been an honor to find simple and easy ways to bring mindfulness processes into the lives of families and children in the past years, and I have been quite humbled by the reports and reflections I get back from parents, teachers and children all over the world. I would like to share a very powerful story about the first child that received the Heart Surgery Mindfulness Kit in Sierra Leone. This is my first time writing about this, and as I type, tears are flooding my eyes. It is not easy to share this story, but I feel compelled to now.
Last November, I was in Freetown, Sierra Leone at the Aberdeen Women’s Center and I had just been on a tour of the facility where, amongst hundreds of people, I noticed a child who glowed with an aura of abundant light. She stood out in a way that struck me as we walked through many buildings and rooms where women were dealing with the countless challenges of pregnancy, fistula, childbirth, and recovery. After the tour, I sat down with Augustine, the program director, and asked him if there was any way that I could be of service to the children at the center. After I showed him the Mindfulness Kits and discussed how I teach children to become empowered facilitators of their own emotional heart, he let me know that there was immense need within their Teen Mother Program. Augustine explained that these girls and young women have all been ostracized by their families and communities, while enduring multiple traumas on many levels. Then he paused and said, “We also sometimes have very traumatic cases, and we have one now.” He told me about a very young child that was staying at the center who had been brutally raped, leaving her paralyzed from the waist down due to the crushing of her spine. We spoke about the culture in some of the tribal areas and the tragic frequency of such violence. I said I would be honored to see and work with her.
Augustine led me through the corridor into one of the rooms, and there she was, the radiant child who had caught my attention earlier, just 5 years old. I could not fathom what had brought her here and to be so full of light and powerful spirit after enduring the darkness put upon her. Looking into her sweet eyes and happy face, I slowly introduced myself to her mother and all the female caretakers who surrounded her like an infantry of love and support. Augustine stood nearby as a bridge for us to communicate. I brought out the Kit and slowly and carefully explained it to her. She was hesitant to speak, but as I introduced her to the various components of the kit, she lit up even brighter. A happy smile and gleeful laugh came out of her as I took out the rainbow of markers that are included for children to use and express their feelings on the Heart Surgery whiteboard. It felt as though she may have never had an opportunity to draw with such vibrant colors. After explaining the process, I intuitively felt it best to leave the kit with her and allow her to take her time with drawing her emotions. I said I would return after working with the teens upstairs, and thanked her, her mother and their “love infantry” for allowing me to enter this space that felt so sacred. The healing that was needed and wanted by everyone in that room was at a depth I cannot express. I walked away deeply humbled.
The next several hours were spent doing extensive in-depth Heart Surgery process work with the teens. I will save to share their story another time, because that is many more chapters which I have yet to write. After I completed my work with them, I returned to the 5 year-old girl, walking softly back into her room. She sat there smiling proudly with her whiteboard, which was now filled in a way I have never seen before. I am including the image here for the first time so that you all may witness the ability we have to express and free ourselves from the pain that has been inflicted upon us, and that we often continue to inflict upon ourselves when we are unable to express and digest it.
I never knew if this Heart Surgery process would take off outside of the nation I had used it in, but I brought it to Africa with an open mind. After my first day on the ground working with the children of Sierra Leone, I was taught by all that it can indeed help heal and free our hearts like a dove taking flight.
This February I was astounded to see international news on this 5 year-old child’s case. Dorthe Tate, the president of Freedom from Fistula, an organization that also works with the Aberdeen Women’s Center, shared an article on Facebook about how the president of Sierra Leone, Julius Maada Bio, was creating a necessary change in their national law on sexual assault. The story of the 5 year- old girl with whom I had worked had gained international attention, and in response to the outcry over the rape and trauma inflicted upon her, President Bio declared a national emergency. First Lady Fatima Bo also launched a campaign called “Hands Off Our Girls,” in an effort to draw attention to violence against women and girls. My heart swells to know that action is being taken to bring justice and awareness to the radiant, beautiful child who shared her heart with me, as well as all the other brave and powerful women and girls I had the honor of meeting. As Mrs. Bio said, “We have to come together as sisters to work in partnership, in unison, to support each other, to scream the loudest for our husbands to hear us and understand that women are crying in Africa.”
Lastly, I am struck by how the darkest days are often the ones that manifest the brightest light. I am quite aware that it was my own son’s sadness one night as he cried in bed that created the Heart Surgery process in the first place. Then meeting Tiffany Persons a year ago, founder of Shine on Sierra Leone, brought me to this amazing country where I had the opportunity to share and serve a larger audience. Without Heart Surgery Kit, I never would have met the incredible children, women, men, teachers and staff in Sierra Leone that continue to teach me every day about what is crucial for all beings on our planet. In my efforts to bring a mindfulness process to young children, I have been transformed myself. In Africa, I witnessed the healing and strengthening of hearts that have endured more than I can comprehend and was reminded of the fundamental power of connection, love and presence. I invite you to reflect on the ways in which you can integrate connection, love and presence into your own life, and the lives of others, be they on the other side of the world or sitting right next to you. I invite you also to reflect on your darkest days or moments and see how they may have brought a valuable awareness or shed some light for you or your loved ones. If that is not the case, I have found that through the power of processing our heart’s pain we can bring light to any darkness within us and in the world.
Here is the link to the international news article featuring the story about the young girl I worked with, and how her bravery in the face of tragedy and trauma has brought necessary light and awakening to her country of Sierra Leone.
The Heart Surgery Kit is a unique, creative, mindfulness practice kit for children and adults developed by psychotherapist Elizabeth Winkler. With easy to understand instructions, children can experience the benefits of mindfulness through a fun and easy process. Developed for use with grade school children in California, the kit has now been used all over the world including Sierra Leone where your purchase of a kit will help to end hunger! Kits can be used by a single child or multiple kits can be employed in groups or classrooms.
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