Written by Robin Vanderplank – Clinical Psychologist and TRE® Mentor in KwaZulu Natal.
‘Woza Moya’ offers care and practical help to the community that lives in the beautiful rolling hills and valleys of the Ufafa Valley region of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa – up in the mist belt near the village of Ixopo. (It could easily be the setting for Alan Paton’s world famous novel “Cry the Beloved Country”.) Some 22 000 people have their homes here (8000 beneficiaries are served by Woza Moya). The children go to junior schools and high schools strategically placed at the head of the valley – on the hardened dirt road near the place we have learned to love – an NGO called ‘Woza Moya’, which roughly translates as ‘come spirit’ or ‘come breath of life’.
A dedicated team of people – drawn from the Ufafa Valley community – offer services which are not part of the essential services supplied under the new Constitution of South Africa. Official services include essentials such as clean water and free education for children up to the completion of high school.
A pre-school facility, a library and media centre housed in a 12m container, a legal trainee who assists with legal guidance, and most importantly, opportunities for training in self-help employment. These are rolled out in the valley by trained community workers who visit homes, assessing medical and financial needs, and all connected through the lady chief of the local area who is an integral part of the planning.
On the 6th of December we have come, at the Director and founder of Woza Moya, Sue Hedden’s invitation, to run a ‘Wellness Day’ for the 30 to 40 staff members of the Woza Moya team.
For six months, local TRE® Trainer Su Thomas and myself have been privileged to get to know six members of the staff through offering them community facilitator training in Tension and Trauma Releasing Exercises (TRE®). This the exciting moment when our trainees have an opportunity to take their learning to their peer group.
During the six month’s training, we have run 24 days of instruction and practice in TRE. We have been transformed, as have the trainees, by what is such a simple procedure. Stretching and stressing certain muscle groups through specific exercises releases a reflex response, completely natural and instinctual in the body, which produces a tremoring, or shaking in the core psoas muscles connecting the lower spine and the legs. This ancient, natural wisdom in the body shakes out the tension and stress, as well as the build up of body chemicals such as adrenaline and cortisol, which would normally be unutilised and therefore remain in the body if we are unable to fight or flee from threats that overwhelm us at the time.
There is no need for interpretation, no telling of tales of abuse or torture, no reliving of the trauma we have experienced. Just simple stretching and stressing of certain parts of the body, and the instinctive process happens. People relax, the tension in their faces smoothes, only the smiling crinkles around their eyes remain. These are the changes we have observed in the six trainees. Would they be able, in a two-hour session with their colleagues, to teach the exercises and safely take participants into the shaking reflex? Then give them time to rest and share what the experience meant to them?
The Woza Moya community begins their day together, with their practice of singing and prayer and each person takes turns to greet the others and say briefly how they feel emotionally and physically at the time. Lots of difficulties were quietly disclosed in both areas on this Wellness Day.
How will they experience TRE? Can the body’s natural instinct to tremor, so simply evoked, help them to experience themselves differently? A beautiful valley, an idyllic existence in the natural, rustic and rural setting of KwaZulu-Natal – each home with a patch of earth to cultivate, Zulu chickens running around and a small herd of goats and cows. What need is there for training and practice of TRE? What tension and trauma could exist in these people’s lives?
South Afric has a very recent history of terrible violence leading up to the first free and fair elections in 1994. In this valley, the rolling hills saw women, children and the aged seeking refuge in the surrounding forests in the middle of winter, spending nights there to escape the massacre from cadres of opposing political factions. The lady chief’s husband was gunned down while filling his car with fuel in the town of Ixopo. At the first meeting of the six trainees, as is the custom, people were invited to share how they had experienced the past week. A community worker told how, three days earlier, they had buried the husband of her sister, who had been decapitated. At the next visit we heard from another community worker how a child on the way to school had been abducted, bundled into the boot of a car and miraculously had managed to escape. There is a question which the police have not yet uncovered, that perhaps these are people using body parts in ritual activities. Drunken domestic violence, rape and HIV/AIDS carry their weight of stress and trauma and the consequences are often dealt with by the community workers of Woza Moya on their regular visits to the rural homes.
The six trainees were all able to create trust and safety for the group of approximately five Wellness Day participants each, who they guided through the TRE experience. A small minority of participants did not tremor, but on the first occasion of doing TRE in a big group, this is sometimes the case. The participants enjoyed their experience and in the plenary report-back at the end of the sessions, one person after another reported that their headache or body pain had now eased.
The Director of Woza Moya, Sue Hedden, asked if people would like to do TRE again and the group decided that they want to learn more about TRE and asked if they could have a Wellness Day based on TRE each month. This will go ahead in 2017 and the trainees have now graduated to being TRE Providers to assist the people living within their community. They will begin work in pairs amongst the Ufafa Valley residents and we will combine a Wellness Day and follow-up meeting for the TRE Providers when we visit.
Should you wish to donate towards supporting this worthy cause, please use the phrase ‘Woza Moya Project’ when making your donation, so that your generous kindness is allocated to this project – thank you!
Use the following link to donate via EFT or Debit/Credit Card via TRE® for Africa’s NPO page at PayFast:
Thank you and we wish you a wonderful year 2017 !