Volunteer Visions: Nina’s unforgettable massages
Meet Nina from England – she has volunteered with our field team in Northern Greece for a second time this summer. Nina came up with the idea to offer massages to the families of Epanomi, most have many children and especially the women rarely have a moment to relax. While we were immediately convinced, it took some time to win over the residents. After all, you need to feel to be be in good hands (quite literally) for a massage to be relaxing. Nina was able to build trust and many families eventually accepted the offer. In this blog post, she tells about her experiences this summer.
During Easter break earlier this year, I spent two weeks working with IHA visiting a range of different camps and shelters, mainly providing food and clothes. Throughout, I met some of the most inspiring people. I found the whole experience so important and meaningful and I especially saw the need for continuing support, therefore decided to come back for a month over summer. I also recognised that so much more could and needed to be done to support people’s lives from just merely surviving, having just escaped a brutal war zone – to living day-to-day life in a new environment.
Working as an Occupational Therapist in London has made me think about the importance of engaging people in doing meaningful occupations, to give their day purpose and routine to working towards creating a more positive mental well-being. As so many of the people I met are stuck in a limbo state, in which they are all just waiting to be re-located to yet another unknown place, it has understandably caused huge anxiety due to their lack of control over this entire situation. With this being said, I had the absolute pleasure of meeting some of the most positive souls in people; friendly, generous and incredibly inspiring.
On my return in the summer, much had positively changed as IHA had expanded its role in one shelter to providing an opportunity for children to engage in activities for two hours, three times a week. This allowed the children to engage in arts and craft activities as well as playing games – just letting them play and dance like the children they are. Due to the lack of structure and routine the children have experienced, it was always a challenge to extend their attention and engage in something in a calm way. Skills such as taking turns and waiting were found to be hugely challenging for so many of them.
The activities provided significant time for skills such as these and with opportunity to practice, they can only improve. From observing the children take part in basic craft activities, I could see many of the young children’s potential delayed development due to the situation of experiencing such trauma, lack of education and opportunity. As the activities took place, working towards getting the children to engage in and extend their attention and focus in a positive way, was hugely rewarding.
I was fortunate enough to lead and create another project in Epanomi: massage therapy to the families. As a trained Massage Therapist, I have been able to massage many different people and seen many beneficial outcomes it can bring. Whilst working within the Epanomi Shelter in Greece, I saw an opportunity that may help to relieve some of the mental and physical pain from some of the their bodies. People who have experienced trauma can often re-live these traumatic events mentally and are often in a heightened state of anxiety.
Due to this their brains are often stuck in a ‘fight or flight’ response which can cause constant tension in their muscles. Massage can help holistically with not only releasing the tension in the muscles and easing the physical pain but can help improve sleep patterns, circulation and overall mental wellbeing. The whole experience I found truly phenomenal and worthwhile; the tension I could feel in so many of their bodies was incredibly powerful and undeniable.
I listened to many of the families stories whilst massaging, which led me to hear about the physical problems and pains resulting from months of traveling, sleeping on floors in camps as well as the physical and mental scars from bombs which had destroyed their homes. I had the privilege of meeting a beautiful young boy who I had got to know throughout time from the activities. He had a huge scar all the way up his arm and when I went to massage him, his mother just looked at me and said “bomb from Aleppo” – I will never forget this moment. I was also overwhelmed as every family I went to massage would want me to stay and chat, offering me tea, coffee or foo. They were all so grateful and generous and wanted to practice their English. Given the circumstances, the energy was amazing.
Amongst all, what I found so lovely from the experience was some of the family interaction I witnessed. As I offered massage therapy to young children and babies, often the parents would want to learn too. We would all be around a beautiful young child, me demonstrating massaging oil into their skin, and both fathers and mothers eager to have a turn, learn together and exchanging smiles, or laughing as their child smiles back at them. I feel so privileged and lucky to have been part of this project through IHA, and hopefully passed on my knowledge from Occupational Therapy and to have met so many incredibly inspiring humans.