By Paula Miller and Casey Crow
Special to The SUN
Beyond Words International (BWI), a locally based nonprofit, is seeking volunteers to join its work of providing humanitarian aid, psychosocial support and healing art programming to survivors of trauma at home and abroad.
A volunteer information session will be held on Saturday, Jan. 4, from 3 to 5 p.m. at the Pagosa Springs Arts Council.
We welcome anyone with an interest to be involved to join us as we share our mission, goals and upcoming projects for 2020. If you are not yet familiar with BWI, which recently celebrated its one-year anniversary, take a moment to read about our work.
BWI’s founder and president, Casey Crow, spent much of the last decade working and studying in refugee camps from Jordan to Kenya to Greece.
While her work helped refugees navigate the complexities of displacement, she noticed a startling lack of programs to help with the severe psychological trauma that comes with being forced from your home. This lack of psychosocial support inspired Crow to merge her education in international development and humanitarian emergencies with her passion for dance and service in the form of an organization that would provide both humanitarian and art healing services for those suffering from extreme trauma.
In September 2018, Crow approached Paula Jo Miller, a former nonprofit consultant and abstract artist, to help her create the organization. Miller agreed and joined the board as secretary and treasurer. Ten weeks later, on Dec. 14, 2018, BWI was born.
and local reach
BWI’s mission is to provide healing arts and humanitarian assistance for trauma survivors around the globe, across the nation and in our local community. With that, our first project was to teach in a Syrian refugee camp in Greece for five weeks. At the camp, our volunteers taught English, math and art healing activities alongside our partner organization, Happy Caravan.
Crow, a dancer and instructor, broke down cultural barriers and encouraged self-expression through dance. It was absolutely amazing to watch the walls fall away while boys, girls and children from opposing cultures danced together in pure joy. Miller facilitated powerful art-based therapy projects where students were given an outlet to express their feelings in a safe, supportive environment.
In the last two weeks of our stay in the Thermopylae Refugee Camp, Miller worked closely with teens and women, in particular, a woman, “B.” University educated, “B” wanted to work on her English skills to help prepare her for the future. Each day, for several hours, “B” shared with Miller her stories of a wonderful life in Syria that she and her family were forced to leave. She loved her life — running a family business and owning several homes with her husband, an engineer. When the war started in 2011, they fled the violence and brutality to protect their children. They gave up everything. They took nothing with them. For eight years, they have been moved from camp to camp — not allowed to work, and with little hope for a new life. To help her trauma and grief, Miller introduced creative writing and poetry to their daily meetings. The meetings allowed both women to form a strong friendship and gave “B” an outlet to process her experience through the written word.
When we returned from the camp in Greece, we immediately scheduled a trip to Matamoros, Mexico, where 2,500 asylum seekers are currently living in a tent city while they await U.S. immigration processing. There, we taught school on Sundays, drew and made sidewalk art with the kids, purchased $2,500 in emergency supplies, and transported and served healthy hot meals to those in the camp every night. After dinner, we walked deep into the camp to hand out warm clothes, bottled water and toys for the kids.
We are currently working with our partner on the ground, Team Brownsville, on a project to support the education program in Matamoros. Crow and BWI volunteer Michael Morgan recently returned from a follow-up trip to begin formulating a plan. Our hope is to support Team Brownsville in establishing a safe space for children and help provide daily English, math and arts programming through a trauma-informed curriculum.
After our initial 10 days in Matamoros, we returned to Pagosa and soon met with local organization, Rise Above Violence, to create a project where we can provide our art healing services to survivors of interpersonal violence in our community. We are thrilled to begin our collaboration with Rise in 2020.
We are amazed and humbled by your support during our first year. Because of your generosity, we were able to reach thousands of families stranded and without hope. We want to thank each and everyone of you for your love, kindness and support. We absolutely could not have done our work without you. We are so very grateful.
If you would like to be involved, attend our volunteer information session this Saturday, Jan. 4, from 3 to 5 p.m. at the Pagosa Springs Arts Council located at 197 Navajo Trail Drive.
If you’d like to support our future efforts, please consider making a tax-deductible donation. You can do so through our PayPal below, or mail a check to BWI at P.O. Box 5203, Pagosa Springs, CO 81147. Wishing you and yours a beautiful holiday season and fabulous 2020.
Please donate to BWI: paypal.com/us/fundraiser/charity/3603448.
By Paula Miller and Casey Crow