A big-hearted woman who never gave up on her childhood dreams of reaching out to children in need
Else Arnold (1973 –)
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Laura, one of several Bruderhof members who support humanitarian aid initiatives around the world, moved to the Middle East in 2014. First stationed in Bethlehem, she now lives in Jordan, in a city where 60 percent of the population are refugees. Aside from distributing food, diapers, and other necessities, she volunteers as a translator for other foreign aid workers. But it’s the children who are closest to her heart.
I have about ninety-five children between nine and fourteen in my care. I teach music on the side, but my main subject is English. Without that you can’t get anywhere, career-wise, in Jordan.
I’d say that all of my children are traumatized, though most don’t talk about it. But since most are refugees from Syria, you can imagine what they’ve been through. Some have had to learn that a classroom can be a place of safety, not terror. One girl whose school was stormed by soldiers couldn’t function for two whole years. Now she’s doing much better academically.
The most important thing is that children have time to play. They don’t need to be rushed around all kinds of places. On a walk, listen and see what they see, stop at the little beetle, stay by a puddle, admire a flower, each walk will be different. It’s important that teachers don’t have too much of an agenda, that the children have time for their own discoveries.
Reflecting on her work with children who have been exposed to so much violence, in terms of helping them overcome their trauma and giving them confidence and resilience for the future, Laura quotes the Russian novelist Dostoyevsky:
He says that “there is nothing higher and stronger and more wholesome and good for life in the future than some good memory, especially a memory of childhood, of home. . . . If a man carries many such memories with him into life, he is safe to the end of his days, and if one has only one good memory left in one’s heart, even that may sometime be the means of saving us.”
That’s why, apart from listening, I try to help them displace their bad memories by creating new and happy experiences. We do fun activities like games with water balloons and trips to the zoo. We make chocolate pudding. Slowly but surely, it seems that most are able to rebuild their capacity for trust. The fact that they are able do so continually gives me hope.
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With photography by British photojournalist Danny Burrows, this 300-page hardcover book celebrates what is possible when people take a leap of faith. It will inspire anyone working to build a more just, peaceful, and sustainable future.
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