Living my dream of helping people in a healing setting


My initial goals as an educator were to work in a hospital or therapeutic setting with allied professionals. Unfortunately, when I completed my doctorate the country was immersed in recession and no such positions were available. Bringing together my resources and bucking up, I opened a learning center where my work included counseling and mentoring, a far cry from the hospital work I had originally intended. Then, at a time in my life when it was possible, I read about the Urban Zen Integrative Therapist program and the circle began to close.

I have just returned from an Urban Zen Integrative Therapist leadership trip to Haiti. This was the first of seven trips in the coming months for program mentors and current students to NPH St. Damien Hospital outside of Port-au-Prince. St. Damien Hospital, funded totally by donations and with a mission motivated by the “gospel command to care for the sick and to offset the injustices of poverty and unemployment which make healthcare inaccessible for many poor people,” provides services to many thousands of people who stand outside the hospital gates before dawn.

Haiti, so rich in history, has a vibrant culture and is home to courageous people who, along with the devastating earthquake, have lived with poverty, high crime rates and despotic politics for many generations. Despite catastrophic misfortunes and natural disasters, many Haitians remain resilient and work toward a brighter future; however, it cannot be denied that Post Traumatic Shock Disorder (PTSD) abounds and is a source of sorrow for many lives. Healing can be a lifelong process and the Haitian people welcome sincere efforts to support those who have suffered for so long.

Donna Karan, the founder, designer, and philanthropist of the Urban Zen Foundation, has committed to providing resources that empower children, preserve cultures and provide tools of wellness. Since the earthquake, the Urban Zen Foundation has launched a highly successful Haiti Initiative that continues to grow with commitment. The relationship between the Urban Zen Integrative Therapist Program and St. Damien is another facet of this commitment and what I, as a leader, along with my fellow UZITs hope will be a true service to the staff and others at this hospital who are overworked and stretched beyond normal limits of endurance.

Our first responsibility is to establish respectful relationships and knowledgeable information about the people we work with. Since the primary language of the people is French Creole, at least in these early trips, a translator is necessary. As time goes on, preparation will include some classes in Creole to facilitate better communication. St. Damien draws on an international staff of doctors and participating individuals, including those from the Mayo Clinic and a growing collaboration with St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. Working with the Urban Zen Foundation we are honored for the opportunity to get to know and perhaps share our skills with individuals working for these notable institutions.
We receive support in working with trauma relief from the Washington D.C.-based Center for Mind-Body Medicine. Founded by Dr. James Gordon, clinical professor of medicine at Georgetown University, this highly regarded organization has a mission to teach and empower people to help themselves and to train health care workers, teachers and community leaders in the field of trauma relief among other such needed specialties. Dr. Gordon has been so generous in providing our group and our teachers with background on Haiti and the importance of understanding how traumatized the population is. Not one person remains untouched by the after-effects of the catastrophic earthquake. Where, when, and how a parent, friend or co-worker died surely leaves a deep well of sorrow, and although it may be unconscious for some, it can surface as anger, avoidance, and deep penetrating grief. Sadly, it is not possible to work in Haiti without meeting a people cloaked in generations of grief.

Being involved in the Urban Zen Integrative Therapist Program, first as a student and now as a mentor, has been as if fulfilling a circle that began long ago. Bringing the tools of self-care through the applications of Yoga therapy, Reiki, and Aromatherapy, with an attitude of respect for the difficult road the hospital workers undertake day by day is daunting. The need is great and the Urban Zen Foundation has a long-term commitment. More UZIT mentors and trainees are being sent to Haiti, and from these experiences, a cadre of local caregivers will rise and establish more permanent resources. Haiti is another step in reviving my dream and I am honored to have the opportunity to work side-by-side with very experienced and talented individuals.

The improbable gift of Haiti resounds in other ways for me when considering its history. Long one of my heroes is Toussaint l’Ouverture, who led the Haitian Revolution. He was a military genius who established the first independent black state in the “new world.” A visionary, he brought this island to self-government and prosperity. Unfortunately, his reign was short and opposing forces took him to France where he died in prison. His memory continues to light pride in Haiti and it is what fires me as well with the hope that out of the rubble of the earthquake, the promise of Haiti can finally be revealed.

Standing with the Haitian people in whatever way is requested to look toward a better tomorrow is an honor that cannot be overestimated. For me, personally, being selected to help lead my fellow UZITs brings me full circle to realize a long held dream of visiting this island nation that attempted the first democracy in the New World. In these tough economic times, it is a chance to realize my original dream of helping people in a healing setting. Now with the maturity of life experience, that dream is even more fulfilling than I could have imagined — finally coming to fruition in a more whole, dimensional way, in the company of the most special fellow travelers.