Flower Essence Therapy Helps Village Women in Angola

 


Volunteer work training at the
Institute for International Cooperation and Development


A volunteer program that is practical and fosters healthy independence

The challenge of communicating in multiple languages

 

Learning that women’s lifestyles are fraught with difficulties

Women’s traditional roles affect their emotional well-being

The emotional feelings associated with the trauma of war:
shock and melancholy

 

The universality of emotions

The trauma of living through the war and the deaths of children

About Joan Ryan

Volunteer work training at the Institute for International Cooperation and Development

In 2009, I was coming to the end of my internship as a natural therapist in a rural hospital in Patagonia, Chile. At the hospital we were treating patients with a variety of natural therapies such as Bach flower remedies, reiki, reflexology, herbs, yoga, and metamorphic massage. While thinking of what my options might be after completing the internship, a thought came into my mind: I wanted to use what I had learned and work as a volunteer in a place where my skills would be needed. I looked for an organization that was working directly with people in countries with populations that had experienced a great deal of trauma. I found one that works with several different development projects ranging from HIV/AIDS prevention, family programs, education, and farmers clubs. As a volunteer, one decides what project and country best suits their skills and expertise. There are not many volunteers that decide to go to Angola because of the difficulties of obtaining a visa, and because of the difficulties which the country faces. Many countries in Africa are faced with serious problems, but with barely eight years of peace following almost thirty years of war, Angola is far worse off, both structurally and emotionally, than many countries. Because of this, I decided that this was where I was needed most.

A volunteer program that is practical and fosters healthy independence


There were two volunteer positions available in a village call Ringoma, so my partner and I decided to work in a rural development project called “Child Aid.” It is a program that works directly with families and children to improve the lives of people living without access to many basic necessities. We gave courses on latrine construction, sustainable farming practices, HIV/AIDs prevention, nutrition classes, and we also worked with women and youth clubs. The program is both practical and theoretical. For example, we helped construct economical ovens from local materials, which not only reduced the smoke created by traditional three-stone fires, but also reduces the amount of wood normally needed, and improves the air quality for the women doing the cooking. A workshop on oven construction quickly becomes a discussion about the environment and health. The main point is to teach and help the people in ways that allow them to take control of their quality of life.

The challenge of communicating in multiple languages

When we arrived in Ringoma, we couldn’t believe where we were; it was like scenes in movies—the houses, the vegetation, the people, everything. Angola’s official language is Portuguese and the second most common language is Umbundu, but there are variety of dialects and sometimes completely different languages, especially away from the urban areas. In Ringoma, most people speak Gangela; many of the men can speak Portuguese, but the majority of the women cannot. For me, it was not so difficult to learn Portuguese because I’m a native Spanish speaker, but the real problem was trying to communicate with the women, as I had not learned Gangela. But, like anywhere, often a kind face and a friendly disposition breaks the ice even when there is no shared language.

Learning that women’s lifestyles are fraught with difficulties

One of my responsibilities in the project was participating and directing several women’s clubs in the surrounding villages. The women’s clubs are designed to be a place for the women to share ideas, work together in community development projects, and a place for us to introduce things we thought were needed in the community. An example would be micro-loans to help improve the economies of their families, but basically anything that could be shared was fair game to be included in the women’s club. After learning of the difficulties in the home life of many of the woman, I proposed to give the women free Bach flower essence therapy. They didn’t mind, so I started my work!  I also was working with the pre-school children, teaching numbers, vowels and some yoga.



Women’s traditional roles affect their emotional well-being

Ringoma is a village with only one street, a school that started operating this year, a police station with three policemen, an administration office, and our project office. There isn’t any work for the men or the women, other than small family agriculture; subsequently, there is much alcohol abuse. Because of traditional roles that distinguish work between men and women, the majority of the work in the fields and in the houses is the responsibility of the women. Also, because of a lack of opportunities to leave the village (prior to the school starting), many girls become wives and start having children at the age of 13. By the age of 20, most of them already have four children. In addition, because of a variety of sanitation and health problems, the infant mortality rate is extremely high. Often a woman with eight children has lost on average half of her children to diseases. Consequently, women continue to have children.

All the women get up more or less at 5:00 a.m. to sweep the floor, clean the house, go for wood, then smash dry corn with a wooden stick for their main meal called “funge.” After that, they have to prepare lunch, go for water, and so on. This continues all day for these women with most of them carrying a child on their back. Despite the huge role that women play in the society, they are still treated as second class citizens, with men having the power to make the decisions for the households. As a result of the subordinate status of the women, it is common for men to have two, three or four women. This is accepted because, they told me, during the war many of the men died, and as a result, there are many more women than there are men, and the women don’t feel confident to live on their own.

Ringoma is a small community with many of the people making their livings in the same way, and the culture is one of a strong sense of a shared identity and collectiveness. During my flower essence sessions with the women, 98% of them described the same problems almost in exactly the same way: they have strong headaches, their hearts beat really fast, they think a lot, or they “imagine a lot,” as they put it, and they are scared about everything—afraid for their families, themselves, the future, etc. Why they all came to me with the same problems I was never able to fully determine. Whether it was just the proximity in which they lived, the shared experiences they had, or if they were discussing their problems and just repeating what the others said, I don’t know. I worked with the women through a translator at the project (who had been briefed in keeping all the information confidential), translating Gangela to Portuguese, so some information may have been lost in translation.

The emotional feelings associated with the trauma of war: shock and melancholy

Most of the older women had bad memories of the war. They had lost many family members and friends who were either killed or never seen again, and now they are alone. This is in addition to the problems that I described above. Many of the women were suffering from past traumas and anxieties, and though never directly said, most were currently depressed about their present conditions and the futures of their families.

I was addressing two dominant emotions with them: one was the shock and melancholic feelings they exhibited; I gave them Star of Bethlehem and Honeysuckle. Their headaches, beating hearts and wild imaginations, I believe, were caused by the stress and anxiety their home environments presented for them. For this I’m gave them Impatiens and White Chestnut. Additionally, for some of them, I used Holly so that they could increase their feelings of love for themselves and their situations.

When I had second sessions with them, eleven of the twelve women were feeling much better. They told me that their headaches were less and their hearts had slowed down significantly. They were not imagining as much, and some of them said that that they were sleeping better at night. They were really happy and excited to continue the flower therapy, as well as grateful for what I was bringing to them in their remote part of Angola. During the second sessions, they were more open with me, and I began to hear different problems and issues that seemed more personal than before. At times, having a third person in the therapy was a bit difficult, and I worried that the translations were accurate, but as the women became more comfortable, so did I. When I finished the second round of sessions I was very happy with how everything had gone. Also, for me, the women’s stories were very interesting. When I left the project because funds had run out, I was very sad; we were making a lot of progress, and I had hoped to be able to continue not only with the women I had already treated, but with other women in different villages as well.


 
The universality of emotions

As I said, the most important essences in Ringoma, were Star of Bethlehem, Honeysuckle, White Chestnut and Impatiens. It is incredible how some essences repeat themselves: when I was working on the opposite side of the world (Patagonia, Chile), the essences that I used the most were also Star of Bethlehem, White Chestnut and Impatiens. This seems to mean, that no matter where in the world we live, people have the same emotions, and the same preoccupations regarding their love ones.

Being worried, and being concerned for loved ones, are common feelings that we share as human beings. The women of Ringoma for example, were worried about their loved ones, about being alone, and about their health. I don’t think there is any difference between the women there and women in other parts of the world. This experience has shown me that we are all equal, no matter if we are rich or poor, urban dwellers or someone living in a rural area. And, it doesn’t mater what color you are, we are all human beings subject to the same emotional conflicts and desires.

The trauma of living through the war and the deaths of children
 

One woman I worked with was Dolhana Jamba. She is 40 years old (she thinks), has four living children and three who died. She is not from Ringoma; she has been an orphan since she was a child, and during the civil war, she was forced to live in the forests until the war ended. She came to take flower remedies because her heart beats very fast when she thinks of what has happened to her, and then her head begins to hurt. She says she is always anxious, she frightens easily when thinking of what might happen to her in the future, and she blames herself for the deaths of her children.

I gave Dolhana Pine for the guilt she feels for losing three children, Chicory so that she can release them with love, Star of Bethlehem for the shock of losing her parents, family and children, Impatiens for her head and heart to calm down, and Aspen for her fear of something bad happening in the near future. With all of this, I also used Five-Flower Formula to compliment the essences.

In the second session she told me that her heart and head were doing okay, that her fears were disappearing, and that her thoughts were getting better. So, I gave her the same essences to continue with the treatment because there was nothing new, and she was having success with what I already gave her.

About Joan Ryan

Joan Ryan Estay is a natural therapist from Chile, where she utilized flower essence therapy, reiki, yoga, and various methods of massage in her practice. She trained for the volunteer program to work with children in Angola, Africa, at the Institute for International Cooperation and Development, a registered non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization.

“Working in Ringoma, providing Bach flower therapy was such a rich and full experience. It helped develop my realization that universally, all peoples of the world experience the same emotional conflicts, and have concerns for family. I think I’m very lucky for knowing these wonderful women and having the opportunity to help them a little bit. I am also grateful to my flower essence therapy teacher, Marila Garcia, for without her, I couldn’t be doing this beautiful work.”


 


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