Connecting with Nigeria!
"I have a few friends across Nigeria who are working with women and girls exposed to sexual and domestic abuse..." the email from Giftie began. A fellow with UrbanPromise International in her second year of earning a master's degree here in the U.S., Giftie has participated in trauma training with me a number of times. Learning about the impact of childhood trauma on health and well-being across the lifespan has resonated with the work she intends to do with her organization, Leading Girls Network upon her return to Nigeria in 2020. But Giftie doesn't want to wait until then to share what she's learned, so this morning found me leading a Zoom meeting with 11 Nigerians, a mix of counselors, social workers and nonprofit leaders.
Nigeria is the most populated country in Africa, with an extreme poverty rate of nearly 50%. We know from the most recent Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) study in the U.S., that growing up in poverty increases the likelihood of experiencing relational trauma, like abuse or neglect, or witnessing violence. Sharing the neuroscience, epigenetic science and the concept of allostatic load ("What's in your invisible backpack that's making you sick 30 years later?") afforded these participants a few ah-ha moments and helped them shift from asking, "What's wrong with you?" to "What happened to you?" and then onto resilience, by asking, "What got you through it?"
As I gave my basic ACEs talk, I used examples of American urban poverty that I've witnessed working in Camden. Stop and think about that for a moment - I have stories illustrating the toxic stress of poverty that come from the richest country in the world. That's the part that disturbs me, but I digress.
The participants asked thoughtful questions, recognizing the ubiquitous nature of trauma. "How do I talk about this with business people who would not like to hear the word trauma?" My answer was that (surprise!) I don't always use the word trauma when I am first starting out. Sometimes I just talk about how our lived experiences, good and bad, become our biology - inform the way our bodies and brains develop.
"How do we care for ourselves when we are witnessing so much trauma?" My answer to this would require another hour (at least) of training, so for now, I quoted Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, "You have to open yourself up and let the pain move through you. It's not yours to hold."
Giftie's email invitation to me ended by saying, "I am passionate about this issue and I would love to have more leaders of civil society organizations and government working in this area better equipped." I believe we took one small step in that direction today, and for that I give thanks.