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Posts tagged ‘boys’

Swimming In Rwanda

From ROP Stories

ROP boys learn to swim!
2 September 2012 by Jenny Clover

This summer something amazing happened at the ROP – the boys learned to swim! A Canadian NGO called Koga International contacted us back at the
beginning of the year, asking if they could fly some qualified
swimming coaches over to Rwanda, pay for the hire of a swimming pool
and all transport costs and teach all of our 100 children how to swim.
Of course, we jumped at the chance. Like most kids, our boys have a
long six-week holiday every summer and, like most kids, they can get
bored and restless. But more than that, it’s rare for our boys to get
an opportunity to learn a valuable new skill, taught by experts, and
to get out of the ROP centre and spend time together in a new
environment. So two weeks of swimming classes in a local leisure
centre which also boasts a trampoline, swings, slides, table football,
ping-pong and pool, was always going to be a winning idea.

Koga international had also come up with the idea of teaching some of
the ROP staff to swim in the few weeks before the kids’ classes began.
The idea is that now that four ROP staff members have begun to learn
how to teach swimming, they can continue the ROP’s swimming programme
in the following years.

So two days before the classes were due to start, we gathered the boys
and told them they would soon be embarking on a watery adventure. The
reaction was incredible – cheering, clapping, jumping, squealing. I
don’t know if we’ve ever had such a joyous reaction to an announcement
before. They couldn’t believe the staff had secretly been having
lessons in preparation for it, and couldn’t wait to start the classes
on Monday.

Despite the excitement, some of the boys were terrified at the idea of
getting in the water. Most of them had never swum before and felt very
uncomfortable with the idea of swimming – particularly with floating
and going anywhere near the deep end. But the expert swimming coaches
helped them get over these issues amazingly quickly and within a few
days, all boys were happily putting their faces in the water and
floating unaided. They picked up the front crawl stroke very fast,
with young and older boys alike, powering along the width of the pool,
faces in water, completely unaided. Many, although not all, of the
boys, were also happy swimming around in the deep end by the end of
the two weeks, and most had learnt how to do really good dives (and
dive bombs).

As coordinators who have watched these boys grow and flourish over the
last three years, we felt incredibly proud to watch them launch
themselves at the task of learning to swim with such enthusiasm, good
humour and bravery. We’ve always known what fantastic boys we have at
the ROP, but watching them in a new environment with new people,
tackling a scary and difficult task with such grace and good behaviour
just reiterated what special boys they are. There was no crying, no
fighting, no bad behaviour, just lots of happy boys grateful for the
chance at a new opportunity and giving their all. This was especially
true of the first group in the morning who had to get in the very cold
water and fight through the shivers to swim before the sun had had a
chance to warm the water up.

See many more photos of swimming lessons at ROP Stories.
Rwandan Orphans Project Center for Street Children

Women’s Day in Rwanda

From ROP Stories

ROP Celebrates International Women’s Day
by Sean Jones
13 March, 2012

To be honest I don’t recall having ever heard of International Women’s Day before I came to Rwanda. I don’t know if that’s because I’ve just been oblivious all these years or if it’s because it’s just not a major holiday in the States. My guess is the latter, but only because America is a country where women for the most part have the equality and respect they deserve. In Rwanda, however, as in so many other developing countries around the world, women are still treated as second class citizens, sometimes by law, sometimes by their society, but usually by both.

The Rwandan government is quite progressive when it comes to women’s rights as far as African countries go. Famously the Rwandan Parliament has the highest ratio of women to men in the entire world, Western nations included. There are numerous laws on the books giving females equal rights to education, employment and even land ownership. As a Westerner it’s easy to be unimpressed, but in most of Africa girls are still not guaranteed access to school and land and property inheritance for women is almost unheard of. Imagine being a wife and mother in Africa and your husband dies. If you have no sons everything your family owns get passed to the nearest male relative. It could be his brother or distant cousin you don’t even know. Whoever he ended up being he wouldn’t have to (and most likely would not) share any of it with you and you would have no legal recourse. This is how it is in many regions of Africa and it used to be this way in Rwanda as well until relatively recently.

Anyway, back to Women’s Day. It sort of sneaked up on us but we decided to have a little celebration after school had finished. As many of you know we do not have any girls living with us at the ROP but we do allow about 30 girls from local poor families to attend our school free of charge. When we first opened our school to these young ladies we had some issues early on with our boys, and outside boys, giving them a hard time. But through several workshops and group chats conducted by our social workers on gender equality and respect for women we have been able to change our boys’ attitudes towards girls and bring most of the problems to an end.

After school everyone made their way into our dining hall – the girls on one side and the boys on the other. It seemed a little strange at first and I considered having them mix together, but in the end it worked out better because we could address the boys as a group and then the girls as a group. Sandrine, our head teacher, spoke to the children first, followed by Elisabeth, our head social worker. Then Jenny spoke to the children, explaining that a man is not more valuable simply by virtue of being male; that we all have strengths and weaknesses and that we should respect each other based on our skills, talents and accomplishments rather than on our sex. My turn came next and I asked our boys to consider a world without women and all the beauty, love and sensibility they bring to the world. I added that a world composed only of men would not be a very pleasant place and probably wouldn’t last very long.

After the speeches we had a short Q&A session with the children and then we wrapped up ceremony. I wasn’t really sure what our boys would take from our words but I think now that they did have an impact. Although Rwanda has many laws proclaiming the equality of women, the fact is that gender bias remains strong in Rwandan society, particularly in the country’s poor rural areas, where most of our children have come from. As I told the children on Women’s Day, it’s most likely too late to change the attitudes of adults in the country, but change comes from the youth, and they all – both boys and girls – have an opportunity to be vehicles for change in Rwanda, and perhaps Africa as a whole.

See more photos at ROP Stories.

Hope and Home in Rwanda

From Gulf News by Vasanti Sundaram
December 2, 2011

For hope, and the thing closest to a home.

His father walked out on his mother and him when he was six years old. Expected to be the “man” of the family from a young age, Sean Jones, now 31, encountered early on the hardships that abandonment brings. But it is this, combined with the strength of purpose that he drew from his single mother, that perhaps drove him to give up a well-paying job as a computer analyst at Xerox in Texas and move to Rwanda to take over the running of an all-boys orphanage. What started as a six-month stint for Jones has now completed nearly two years, and from relying on his savings — for more than a year — to earning a salary of $300 (Dh1,101) a month, he has come a long way. Weekend Review learns about the force that binds him to Kigali, the Rwandan capital. Excerpts:

Is there any particular reason behind why you chose Rwanda?

In 2009, this urge to make a difference grew stronger in me. Xerox agreed to give me six months off to do some volunteering overseas. I was looking for organizations that would let me teach English. But I found that most NGOs were the pay-to-volunteer kind; but I wanted something more substantial, something that would allow greater involvement with a community. After a concerted search, I found this small organization called the Rwanda Orphanage Project — Centre for Street Children (ROP) that had been set up by a group of friends in San Diego, California. On a visit to the country several years ago, they were told about this orphanage and its appalling conditions. They went back to the United States and raised money to create a fund to support the children there, but without any volunteers on the ground, they did not have direct control over the orphanage.

I met them in California and told them that I would like to volunteer. They were happy with my proposition and eager to have me start right away. In January last year I arrived in Rwanda with one of the organisation’s members. He showed me the ropes for two weeks, and from then on I was on my own.

Were there any challenges you faced while working with the orphanage?

The orphanage was an abandoned warehouse in an industrial part of town by the river where street children would congregate at night for shelter. A Rwandan church offered to help by donating food and clothes. The person put in charge of the orphanage, however, turned out to be corrupt and was replaced by another supervisor. When I came in, the orphanage had some 200 children between the ages of 6 and 20. The place was run-down, with a leaky roof, one light bulb and no running water, furniture or facilities. It didn’t take too long to find out that the people running the orphanage there were actually pocketing the money sent by the donors in the US. I made my case to the board of directors in California and they put me in charge of the organization. So here I was, in my first month in a foreign country, a volunteer for an orphanage being asked to run the place instead.

It was a new place and you didn’t even know the local language. Was it difficult to put things back on track?

The first thing I did was fire the supervisor and the members of staff who were hand-in-glove with him. He was a sociopath, abusing the children physically and mentally. And these poor children would rather be subject to that abuse than live on the streets without food. On top of that, this supervisor claimed to be the founder of the orphanage, and since he knew the right people in the government, went about maligning my reputation.

In a system as bureaucratic as Rwanda’s, it was difficult to make a convincing case out of the testimonies of the children and the remaining staff. But we somehow managed to get him out despite his threats. But things didn’t end there. Almost as if to defy my place in the organization, this man just used to walk into the office at will. We met the local leaders, including the mayor of our district and the minister of General Family Promotion who is in charge of all orphanages in the country, and after endless persistence, the government intervened and told the supervisor to stop bothering us.

What did the future look like at that point?

Bleak! One day the government visited us and said that the place wasn’t good enough for children. We were given a month to move out and an ultimatum that if we didn’t, the orphanage would be shut down. This was in March last year, three months into my arrival in Rwanda. We didn’t have the money to buy land or move into a new building. The new director of the orphanage and I began rushing around Rwanda looking for an abandoned building or something that could function as a temporary shelter. Divine intervention came in the form of a wealthy Rwandan man who offered his school that had been abandoned for a number of years — and he let us use the premises for free! This was a miracle. So, while earlier we were in a shoddy industrial warehouse, now we were in a cleaner and quieter area called Kanombe, on the outskirts of Kigali. We moved here in April 2010. Today we have our own land.

How do you know which child needs to be taken in?

Not all street children are orphans; some of them beg because they can make more money for their working parents. Generally, we see very, very unkempt children washing in the sewers, begging for food, and we try speaking to them. I don’t usually do the talking, because apart from the language problem, their first reaction on seeing a white-skinned person is to claim to be orphans in the hope of getting something out of him. So we have the Rwandan staff talk to them and make sure they are not just pretending. We bring in children between the ages of 5 and 10. Many come with behavioural problems or drug and alcohol addictions. We have 5-year-olds who sniff glue or smoke cigarettes. We counsel them, but sometimes they just sneak out and find a bottle of alcohol themselves. Then we again have to bring them back and tell them why it is bad for them. But with the older ones, we need to be more strict.

What facilities do you provide at the orphanage?

Apart from food and shelter, we have a primary school from Level 1 to 6. We provide education to the boys we house at the centre and support children from poor families in the neighborhood. We also pay for their secondary education once they complete their term. At present we fund about 35 to 40 children, which costs about $100 a child per term. Last year six of our students graduated from secondary school, three of whom were granted university scholarships. Children who start school late or fall back academically are also offered vocational training. Jenny Clover, a journalist from London who has taken time off from her job, supports me at the orphanage and has started an art programme and created a playroom and a library. Last year I was able to scrape together enough money to form a football club so the boys would have some activity. The children now have football shoes and uniforms and even play other schools.

Do the children ever face discrimination when they interact with others in society?

Yes, and primarily from peers. The other children tend to say: “Watch out, these are street children. They will take your wallet.” Or in the church, people say, “We don’t want street children here.” But there have also been times when people have said that our boys are far more well-behaved and respectful than other schoolchildren. I tell them to be proud of such remarks rather than be bogged down by rejections.

Are you focusing on anything in particular now?

Orphanages have a hard time finding donors, because they are known to be corrupt — we used to be an example of that. So it is hard trying to convince others that we are not going to be corrupt or wasteful with the money. ROP has no corporate or foundational support and relies on the charity of citizens. We spend $7,000 a month to provide for the 100 children we look after. Food alone comes to $2,000 a month. We have started a programme where a child can be sponsored for $35 or $50 a month, but we would love to have each child sponsored by two donors. Earlier this year, we had a Norwegian donor who helped build a contemporary kitchen here for $6,000. But our overall financial situation is a little shaky and we are desperately seeking help to keep our mission alive.

Read entire story at Gulf News.

More about the Rwandan Orphan’s Project.

Jackie Chan in Rwanda

Excerpt from ROP Stories. A blog for the Rwandan Orphan’s Project.

Chan-tastic
Posted on April 26, 2011 by Jenny Clover
(This post was originally posted in Jenny’s Blog, A Fish Called Rwanda)

Yesterday Sean and I watched in amazement at the reaction that the two magic words “Jackie Chan” evoked in the smaller boys at the orphanage. Some jumped up and down, eyes tightly closed in ecstasy; some punched the air; all whooped; one looked like he might wet himself with happiness.

We now have a projector at the Centre and when dad visited he brought over some DVDs for the boys. I’m not sure why, but every male under the age of about 20 that I’ve met in Rwanda goes absolutely crackers for Jackie Chan. They don’t seem to have heard of any Hollywood stars, but they all know old JC and they adore him. It must be the non-stop action and silliness, and the lack of much real dialogue that’s so engrossing for them. So yesterday, we decided to show Jackie Chan’s First Strike in the dining room.

READ ON

Little Amusa

Written by Jenny Clover at the ROP Center for Street Children in Rwanda for ROP Stories.

Photo: Amusa (on right), with his best friend Frank.

Amusa is one of our youngest boys, aged around five we think. Like so many of the boys, we don’t know his real age or when his birthday is. All we know is that his parents are dead and he is on his own. All the rest is guess work based on his size and little snippets he can remember. Although we can’t even trust his memory: when he first arrived he told us that his parents died in the 1994 genocide, a story he probably adopted from older street children he met of whom this was true.

The Director of our Rwandan Orphans Project Centre, Celestin, found Amusa living under a truck in an area of Kigali where long-haul drivers stop to rest. It’s difficult to describe you Amusa’s tiny frame and wide-eyed innocence, but if you can imagine any five year old you might know living under a truck and fending for themselves every day, you will probably realise how unbearable it is to think of little Amusa doing this.

Amusa wasn’t completely alone when we found him, he shared his life on the streets with two close comrades: Frank and Saidi, both aged around six and now also living at the Centre. The three of them have a closeness that you don’t see amongst young children very often, and it can only be because of what they must have been through together. They are fiercely loyal and fight for each other when they feel there has been an injustice. An incident at the Centre which meant Amusa missed lunch and was bought a banana, saw him insist on sharing it with his friends.

Now safely away from the streets and with three regular meals a day guaranteed to him, Amusa seems happy. But he is still a young child and finds it difficult to accept that he has no idea what happened to his parents, except that they are dead. Soon after he joined our Centre, Amusa had a fight with another boy and became hysterical afterward. He kept crying out that he wanted his mum. He knew, as we did, that she is dead but that didn’t stop him wanting her. We will never be able to ease that pain but we can go some way towards helping Amusa have a chance at a successful future.

CONTINUED

Birthday in Rwanda

Volunteering for three weeks with a medical team and trauma specialists to provide care to children orphaned by the 1994 genocide and AIDS in Rwanda, is not a young man’s usual birthday wish on their fourteenth birthday, yet that is what Shona Blumeneau, a teenager from Santa Cruz, California experienced at ROP Center for Street Children. “It was really cool and different,” he says with a warm grin. “The people are very kind.”

Some estimates put the number of orphans in Rwanda at over a million. There have been vast improvements since the nineties, but thousands of kids are still living on the streets and many of the orphanages and youth centers that have taken in survivors (also referred to as “street rebels”) are struggling to provide basic needs, let alone education and vocational training for the children in their care.

Shona and his family held yard sales, received donations from relatives and friends across the country and had a local musician put on a piano concert to raise funds for their journey. “I worked as a referee and as a coach at a summer soccer camp,” Shona recalls. He saved half of any money he got for his birthday or holidays and put it away for his airfare to Rwanda. He says could have stayed home with friends, “but I really wanted to see Africa and make a difference.”

When he arrived in Africa and started working at ROP Center for Street Children in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, Shona found that “half the time the kids accepted me and tried to bring me into their culture and the rest of the time they wanted me to get them things or bring them home to The States.” He said they all assumed he was rich because he was from America and comparatively speaking, he is. The average daily wage in Rwanda is about one US dollar per day. “It would be hard to grow up in an orphanage and not have a family to support you,” he reflects. Every morning they returned the boys and girls would approach, grab his hands and ask if he remembered their name. They wanted to be seen, heard and reassured that they would not be forgotten. “It was awkward when I said ‘No’,” says Shona, “but I couldn’t remember everyone’s name.”

The team Shona traveled with came from throughout the U.S. and included two nurses, a psychologist, family therapist, nurse practitioner, dentist, minister, two teachers, journalist, photographer and a quilting instructor. They worked with six translators, from early morning until evening, with hundreds of children at ROP for almost three weeks. Shona assisted the nurse practitioner and dentist to give these children the first check-up they’d ever had in their lives. “At first I took pictures and then I started taking their height and weight and testing their eyes with a wall chart,” Shona proclaims. “Whitney (the nurse practitioner) taught me how to look in ears and what to look for and Jim (the dentist) showed me how to record information about teeth and gums.”

Most of the children at ROP are in their teens and adopted the young American as their brother or “inshuti” (friend in Kinyarwanda). “Everyone has a story,” says Shona, “about how their life has been since the genocide. There was one kid whose parents and siblings were killed, except for a baby sister. They were stuck on the street, taking care of the sister and eating rotten food until the director of the orphanage found them and brought them to ROP.”

His time at the orphanage was not all work and no play. “Sometimes I was just chilling with them talking, trying to communicate and understand each other. A lot of them are learning English and I picked up a few words of Kinyarwanda.” Shona’s family also brought four suitcases of donated soccer uniforms they had been collecting from parents and kids back home and provided enough outfits and balls for four teams. Shona, who has played soccer since he was four years old, would make foray’s to play with his adopted brothers and sisters on the mud and rock strewn field behind the orphanage and come back after twenty minutes dripping with sweat. “Those guys are really good!” he’d exclaim, trying to catch his breath, as he collapsed on one of the thin wooden benches used by students during class.

The words “life-changing” are often thrown around loosely in our society. To Shona Blumeneau, the words are real. “This trip has changed my life,” he says. “I don’t think I’ll ever whine about anything again.” His perspective on the privilege he enjoys in America was matched by his new found appreciation and understanding of Rwanda. “Even though there is poverty, it isn’t as bad as people describe it. Most of Africa is poor, but there is also a lot of development and hope. The kids really want to learn everything they can. I have a lot of respect for them.”

When asked if he would like to return to Rwanda, Shona, who is now a high school senior, said quickly, “Absolutely! I learned that even though I’m in another country, I still like working with kids and I can do that anywhere, even if I don’t speak their language. I think I would like to work in the medical field and I love traveling.”

You can bet your last dollar that this determined young teen from the United States will indeed make his way back to Africa, where the orphaned children of The ROP Center for Street Children will hold his hand, look him in the eye and ask, “Do you remember me?”

Quilting Mama in Rwanda

Daisy Gale doesn’t take any guff and is a straight shooter or should I say straight quilter? About her trip to work with children at the ROP Center for Street Children in Kigali Rwanda, she says, “I’ve been trying to get here for sixteen years. Four of my children are adopted. I look at the kids I’m working with here and they remind me of my own. They can be a pain in the butt, but I love them to pieces.”

Daisy, a Salt Lake City mother of eight “that look like the United Nations” and master quilter, has been volunteering all of her life and quilting since she received her first 1928 White from her grandmother at the age of fourteen. Along with a team of medical personnel, trauma specialists from the Association for Thought Field Therapy and community organizers, Daisy ventured to the other side of the globe to share her skills with some of the 150 children who call ROP Center for Street Children their home. Most of the children at El ROP (Rwandan Orphan’s Project) are survivors of the 1994 genocide or their parents died from the AIDS pandemic.

For almost three weeks Daisy worked day and night to set up a quilting program for some older students, who would soon be leaving the orphanage and have no other means of support. The beginning days were challenging, as many of the machines were broken or malfunctioning and some of the young men “had no idea what they were doing,” Daisy says, “but they took in everything I said and were determined to get it right.” She taught them the basics of machine maintenance, safety, cutting, sewing, block assembly, sashing, applique, color use, hand quilting, as well as how to infuse their personal creative genius and design. “I swear,” she says like a proud mother, “that these young men’s quilts will become collector’s items.”

She and her students also went on a fabric safari, “which was a trip in itself,” Daisy snickers. “With all that finagling and bargaining, they were yelling and screaming as much as I do back home on the soft ball field!” Their persistence paid off when they found a shop in the capital (Kigali) to buy natural inexpensive one-hundred percent African cotton fabrics and arranged an ongoing relationship with that supplier.

“Each of these young people have their own strengths,” Daisy states. “One is good at cutting, another at design and yet another at sewing. Language is our biggest barrier, even though Marseilles is a great translator. I have people taking the class that speak Kinyarwanda, French and Swahili and Marseilles can speak them all!” She claims that the boys have their idiosyncrasies and quirks, “But who doesn’t,” she laughs.

Daisy helped set up bank accounts for the children, taught them how to manage their business and connected them with another quilting teacher from Kigali, who continued their quilting education. Other women from The U.S. (including Suzanne Connolly and Dottie Webster), also play a major role in supporting and marketing the young men’s quilts. “They’ve already sold several at Hotel Rwanda,” states Suzanne Connolly, “and have had buyers in the U.S. who want to buy everything they make.”

“I’m hoping what I took away from there and what I left will keep going,” says Daisy. “If these young men and women leave the orphanage without any skills, they’ll end up starving and being back on the streets in the same position they were before they got to ROP.”

“This entire project was the result of an idea by Sandra Bagley, who used to be the medical officer for the U.S. Embassy in Rwanda,” says Daisy. “Sandra helped me adopt my kids and asked if I could teach the children at ROP how to quilt.”

“I don’t care if people know anything about me,” Daisy clarifies, “I want people to know that it doesn’t matter if it’s these kids or somewhere else. It doesn’t matter how much you get involved or where, just get involved! Give a little each paycheck; donate time and/or energy. You don’t have to travel overseas. Go ahead and get your hands dirty.”

Daisy Gale not only got her hands dirty, she got her heart split open every time she saw one of the boys faces light up with understanding or they did something that reminded her of one of her sons back home. Like most languages, the word “mama” is the same in Kinyarwanda (the native language of Rwanda). Daisy Gale has now added to her Utah family of eight and become Mama to a new generation of Africans she birthed into the quilting world.

If you would like to contribute to this project please contact The Rwandan Orphan’s Project.

Take It Like A Man

“Be strong.” “Bear up to pain.” “Be sexually potent.” “Provide for others.” “Endure.” “Don’t give in.” “Compete and win at all costs.” “Be in control.” “Remain rational, unemotional and logical.” “Accomplish, achieve, perform.” “Be assertive, in control and one step ahead of the next guy.”

These are some of the messages given to young boys and men for thousands of years. We’ve heard it from lovers, parents, families, friends, religions, governments, the media and other men since birth. Some of the messages of expected behavior are blatant and others more subtle. Some are proclaimed orally or in print and others are non-verbal and observed by actions and deeds. “Don’t cry.” “Never, ever, express or convey fear, dependence, loneliness, emotion, weakness, passivity or insecurity.”

It’s only been in the last forty years, since the modern women’s movement (in some areas of the world), that these cultural, familial and religious norms and expectations have been questioned, debated, challenged and/or changed. Within this short span of freedom from such rigid conditioning, some men have chosen (consciously or unconsciously) to embrace these norms and continue the cycle. Others have revolted against them altogether and thrown out the positive attributes of such expectations, along with the negative. And others swagger back and forth between the past and the present, in a state of confusion, bewilderment and loss.

Regardless of how one lives, when a man loses a loved one, by death or separation, they can be thrown into an unknown world of pain that casts their beliefs, personal expectations and accepted ways of being into an ocean of doubt, turmoil and isolation. Loss causes an eruption of feelings, fears and thoughts that fly in the face of what it has meant to “be a man”. Feelings of fear, anxiety, depression, emptiness, doubt, confusion, helplessness and indescribable pain can assail our very concept and perception of who we are.

Efforts at avoiding, “toughing it out”, controlling or “getting rid” of the pain of loss, only result in temporary relief, often at the expense of long-term health and rarely change the reality of our condition. The pain of grief is one of the few kinds of pain in life that are best dealt with head on, by doing something men are often taught to avoid. The pain of grief and mourning tend to change and heal with time and attention, when we can honestly acknowledge what we are feeling, thinking and believing and externalize such reactions in a positive, healthy environment and/or manner.

Men and women all experience the pain of grief and loss and both genders feel its impact, in many of the same ways. What tends to be different about the sexes is the way in which we talk about and verbalize such feelings and experiences. We filter them differently. Men often talk about the things we did for our loved one, how we took care of them, what we’re “doing” now and what we “plan” to do in the future. We blame others or ourselves for something that did or didn’t happen or something that could have been different; something that would have spared us the pain we are now experiencing. Our anger, guilt and reasoning; are ways we try to control and make sense out of our grief and the situation it has put us in.

Though it is a generality and never true at all times, with all men or all women, men tend to speak “about”, instead of “of” or “with”. If I asked a gentleman how he’s been “feeling” or what had been the “most difficult” about the loss of his wife, partner or parent, he might look at me as if I was speaking Russian. If, on the other hand, I questioned his “reactions” or asked him to tell me a story “about” the deceased, he would begin to take the road to the same valley of pain that a woman experiences, but get there from a different route.

Ironically, men often seem to be more emotionally dependent on women for their sense of self, than the other way around. (Again, please remember that I am speaking in generalities and there are thousands of exceptions.) The women in a man’s life are who he tends to share his most intimate needs, desires and fears with, as it is seldom safe or accepted to talk about such things with other men. Thus, when a woman mate, friend or mother dies or leaves, men have nobody to whom they feel they can acceptably turn to and their need for intimate human contact and emotional well being is left in a desert of thirst for companionship, friendship, validation and/or physical contact.

Many men, though not all, also connect physical touch with sex, because it is one of the few occasions in their lives when they are permitted or expected to touch or be touched. To hug, kiss or embrace another man or woman, aside from the sexual act, is frowned upon and charged with a variety of expectations, judgments and fears. Thus, after the death of a loved one, men often do not know how, where or when it is acceptable or possible to have any human contact that is not sexual.

Luckily, there are people, men and women, who are willing and able to listen to men’s lives and experiences surrounding grief and loss. There are places where a man can be held, without any sexual involvement or expectation of such. There are people within families, churches and communities that honor and respect our gender’s differences without putting limits or expectations on what those differences can or should be.

If you or a man you care about, has experienced the loss of a loved one, give yourself or him, the comfort, permission and love that all humans need, regardless of gender and provide the personal or community resources that can help the hurt change to healing and positive action.

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