Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Different Sort of Caregiving ...

Hi everyone! I hope you've had a restful and restorative Easter weekend. I meant to publish this post on Earth Day, before leaving for Vancouver Island but, in the cognitive neglect that sometimes accompanies human caregiving, I forgot. So, here it is, a little late:

For the past few weeks, I've had the pure pleasure of visiting with my young friend, Alie Ashbury, who works with the Orangutan Foundation International (OFI). (She is here for the opening of the new 3D IMAX film, Born to Be Wild, which features the work of the OFI and the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.) Through our conversations, I have learned more about a different sort of care-giving - that engaged in by the dedicated folks working in orangutan rescue, rehabilitation and conservation.

Through Alie's stories, I have learned about mother orangutans on the move due to the deforestation of their natural habitat in favour of palm oil plantations. I have heard of these mothers being killed as they've wandered onto railway tracks or into villages in search of food. I have seen, through Alie's eyes, intelligent, sensitive creatures being hunted for food, poached, or killed by palm oil plantation workers who see them as pests or threats to their daily crop yield.

Regardless the source of their destruction, these mothers leave behind grieving babies, defenceless and unable to care for themselves. Those fortunate enough to be found and rescued by OFI can arrive at the Center, "completely traumatized", their mothers dead, and suffering medical problems but unable to say where it hurts.

The tears in Alie's eyes and voice as she tells these stories are an indication of the emotional impact of caring for these human-like babies and they underline the words of Jon R Conte, PhD in his introduction to Laura van Dernoot Lipsky's Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide to Caring for Self While Caring for Others -

In the same way that oils splatter on the painter's shirt and
dirt gets under the gardener's nails,
trauma work has an impact.

This secondary trauma effect, often felt by people working with traumatized humans, is also felt by those working in the animal world and for the sake of the planet.

Our response to this effect needs to be the same whether we are working to support people, animals or the environment. We need to practice exquisite self care and to heal our primary trauma (our own emotional wounds) which can cause us to over-identify with, and feel overly responsible for, those for whom we care. When we heal our wounds, we can discover the truth in Laura Lipsky's words:

If we can transform ourselves,
we can transform the world.

Photo of "Mr Bernie" by Alie Ashbury.


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