by Zach Rivera, Community Relations Intern
June 26th is the UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. On this day, the United Nations calls on individuals throughout the globe to show solidarity and support for the hundreds of thousands of people who have experienced or are currently confronting torture and its consequences. At SURVIVORS, we recognize this special day by organizing a picnic at the beach where clients, volunteers, and staff commemorate the day. The annual picnic revolves around our clients’ healing and is designed to support them in becoming vibrant, productive members of San Diego.
In San Diego we are afforded beautiful weather and close proximity to the ocean, both of which we take advantage of for our therapeutic activities. Many clients live in apartments far away from the ocean, have limited resources for transportation, and thus might have never had the opportunity to explore the natural gems San Diego offers. The openness and calming aspects of the beach help clients to counteract the isolation and darkness caused by the trauma they experienced.
On the beach, about 25 clients gathered to participate in the day’s first activity led by Cintia Alfonso Fior, one of SURVIVORS’ interns, and Cassie Murray, SURVIVORS’ Senior Mental Health Clinician (L.C.S.W). In a therapeutic art project, Cintia and Cassie asked clients to reflect on their lives and write their dreams, hopes, and goals on paper leaves that they could glue to the bare branches of a drawn and framed tree. As the tree branches became full with clients’ leaves, clients were not only able to share similar sentiments and aspirations, but also complete the “tree of life” art project via their collective effort. Next, clients were able to share what they wrote with the rest of the group with the support of a team of interpreters. Listening to other’s aspirations and being surrounded by others who had endured similar circumstances is often extremely valuable in many clients’ path to healing. They recognize that they are not alone and are supported not only by SURVIVORS’ clinicians, but also by fellow survivors.
Following the art project, it was time to eat. Volunteers, staff, interpreters, and clients shared a meal together, an act of welcome and socialization that is universal in nearly all cultures. After everyone was well-fed (the hummus went fast!), music therapist interns from Resounding Joy led clients, staff, volunteers and interpreters in stomping, clapping, and beating with a variety of percussion instruments in an energetic drum circle. If clients weren’t smiling and moving before, they sure were by this point. It was amazing to watch the transformation in some of the clients in just the few hours at the park. Some clients who were reticent and could not make eye contact at the beginning of the art project were smiling by the time we had finished drumming. As simple as a picnic with some art and drumming may sound, its results were clear to even an untrained observer.
As a new intern at SURVIVORS, I was amazed to see the visible changes in the client’s demeanor. At first, many clients were solemn and quiet. However, by the end of the picnic I witnessed a transformation as they began to laugh and smile. It may only seem like a small change, but having known that what they survived and experienced, I could see the impact of June 26th on everyone who attended.