Smiling with our eyes

 

Dear friends, partners, donors: how much is too much to share since our last letter? The first destination of our journey is rich with experiences and emotions! Touching encounters, promising achievements but also real challenges...


Les Sourires (“The Smiles”)

Late October, we met with Imran, Lola, Sanna, Chaima, and their peers. First of all, at Le Phare des Sourires (“The Lighthouse of Smiles” - a care center by the sea), then at La Timone Children's Hospital. They are between 6 and 18 years old and fighting against cancer, some since several years already. Despite the hardships of the disease, they moved us with their courage, their curiosity, and their upbeat mood.

Sourire a La Vie (“Smiling at Life”) offers sick children sports and cultural activities to enable them to continue living the life a child deserves - a life full of learnings, discoveries, games, laughters, and dreams.

Sourire a La Vie dedicated sports facility within the oncology unit of La Timone Children Hospital in Marseille. This is the first of its kind in France.

Sourire a La Vie dedicated sports facility within the oncology unit of La Timone Children Hospital in Marseille. This is the first of its kind in France.

With the support of this incredible organisation, we visit Les Sourires every Tuesday at the hospital : we go to their often secluded rooms and when possible, we take them to the dedicated sports facility within the oncology unit to guide them through meditation, breathing, and visualization exercises. These sessions are both touching and challenging! We are teaching these tools to children for the first time; thus we had to immediately adjust our approach to be more playful. Also, going into their secluded rooms means half of our face is hidden behind a surgical face mask to prevent contamination - the best we can do is to smile with our eyes. We truly hope that these few moments can help them manage the stress and anxiety triggered by intense chemotherapies and their aftermath. We are currently passing along these yogic tools to the staff of Sourire a La Vie so that they can continue sharing them with the kids after we leave Marseille.

Chemotherapy treatment can drastically weaken the immune system. We wear surgical face mask and gowns to prevent any contaminations when we visit the kids in their rooms.

Chemotherapy treatment can drastically weaken the immune system. We wear surgical face mask and gowns to prevent any contaminations when we visit the kids in their rooms.

Thanks to the initiative of Frédéric Sotteau, the president of the association, we are proud to also offer weekly yoga classes to the parents of the sick children and to the team of Sourire à La Vie! It is essential to take care of yourself before taking care of others: the consequences of the disease are just as difficult experiences for patients as their are for their loved ones and caregivers.

Some of the kids are on wheelchairs because chemotherapy treatments can also lead to joint lesions, especially on the knees.

Some of the kids are on wheelchairs because chemotherapy treatments can also lead to joint lesions, especially on the knees.

 

The end of our program with refugees

Last week, we took a tough decision: we paused the classes we had been offering to refugees and asylum seekers since early October. Despite the enthusiasm of the participants at the beginning of the program, none of them came to the last three sessions.

Charlotte leads a breathing exercice during one of our sessions. Belly breathing can lower stress levels, reduce blood pressure, and regulate other important bodily processes!

Charlotte leads a breathing exercice during one of our sessions. Belly breathing can lower stress levels, reduce blood pressure, and regulate other important bodily processes!

Were they deterred by the ambiance of the room - i.e. aggressive bright lights, no heat? We transferred the classes to another location with the support of ATD Fourth World, but that did not seem to change anything. Does commuting take too much efforts - especially during rainy days? Did we communicate enough about the program? Was the practice adapted to their needs? Despite our disappointment, we sat with the team of JRS France, our partner, to step back, derive learnings from the situation, and brainstorm a solution for the future. We aim to resume the program in 2019 - with a renewed approach. Stay tuned :)

Most of the participants are coming from Guinea, Afghanistan and Syria.

Most of the participants are coming from Guinea, Afghanistan and Syria.

 

A program that was never started.

One of our programs targeted towards isolated & vulnerable women never started because of lack of a venue. The House of Youth and Sports of Provence (where the program was planned to take place) closed its doors the week of our arrival in Marseille. Why? "Because of clashes between the migrants occupying the hall around the block” informed us Esther Fouchier, the President of Forum Femmes Méditerranée - our partner NPO - who was very supportive of our initiative. This is sad news, knowing that the program already had 12 registered participants even before it started! Our efforts to find other venues at the last minute did not pan out.

 

Going inside Prisons

Last month, we walked through the “bars” of the Detention Center of Reau, 50km away from Paris, to offer 2 yoga & meditation workshops to inmates. This initiative was brought to life in partnership with Champ Libre and part of the National Prison Week, to raise public awareness on prison-related issues. This year’s theme, “Prison: A punishment to the body”, invited us to question how the body is taken into consideration in prison and what happens to incarcerated bodies. Despite the tough environment in which they took place, these workshops were soul-stirring and joyful. The 15 adult men who participated were respectful, curious, and mostly engaged. This was not only an opportunity for them to discover yoga but also a precious time to connect with their peers and with us in a caring environment.

Located 50km south of Paris, the Detention Center Sud Francilien opened its doors in 2011. It is a center for detained persons sentenced to long terms with a capacity of 448 places for men and 89 places for women.

Located 50km south of Paris, the Detention Center Sud Francilien opened its doors in 2011. It is a center for detained persons sentenced to long terms with a capacity of 448 places for men and 89 places for women.

 

Raising funds with the sweat of our foreheads

The participants of our 4 Jivamukti Yoga workshops helped us to collect a total of 861 euros to support our social programs in Marseille and in our next destinations! Thanks again to everyone who came together on October 21st and December 2nd to chant, move, breathe, & meditate!

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Ludovic Baussan