Katie Roth invites you to experience “5 Ways to Wellbeing” in the midst of isolation in Latvia
By Katie Roth
ERGLI, Latvia – I’m sitting in a swing seat on my porch, warmly dressed (it’s 42°F), enjoying the sunshine, peace, quiet, and birds feeding in my apple tree. Our girls are inside, doing lessons online from their school in England. I haven’t been to work here in Ergļi since the schools were closed on 13th March. Life has changed, bringing new restrictions, but also new opportunities.
For quite some time I’ve been wondering how I might make use of the 5 Ways to Wellbeing model in my work, and the past couple of weeks have brought inspiration.
I would like to share with you some of the ways I have been putting that inspiration into practice, both professionally and personally:
School closures were announced here on the evening of Thursday 12th March, with immediate effect. That meant I didn’t get a chance to talk to the children I see for play therapy each week, to say goodbye and help them process their feelings in this extraordinary situation. The very next day I used the Touchnote app to send each one a postcard with a picture of part of my play therapy ‘toolkit’ that is especially important to them, as a reminder I would be keeping them in mind, even though we couldn’t meet in person. A couple of days later I sent them each a card introducing the 5 Ways to Wellbeing and plan to follow up with cards on each specific ‘way’.
I found great inspiration that led me to form creative connections with others in British play therapist Sophie Marsh’s story, ‘The Stay Home Superheroes” – a beautiful collaboration with former BPI student Kristaps Kulpe and Croatian animator Berislav Jagustin emerged, resulting in a Latvian video that already has over 40,000 views on Youtube. We are gaining new perspectives in these days of what ‘going viral’ means! I have even heard that children doing online learning are being sent homework to watch the video and answer comprehension questions. You can find the video in 7 languages (English, Latvian, Lithuanian, Spanish, Italian, French and Russian) on Kristaps’ Youtube channel MyDadReads. We are currently investigating the possibility of adding Latvian sign language subtitles and working on a German version.
2. Be Active
On a normal workday, I walk to school and back, making connections as I greet people I meet along the way. All day I walk the 400m from my therapy room to school and back as I collect each child from class. Often the best connections are made with children on these walks up and down the road as we chat along the way. (As I write, I’ve become aware of how these 5 Ways are intertwined, but let’s stay focused on being active!). Now however, with schools closed until at least mid-April, in order to stay active I have returned to a lapsed habit of going for long walks into the countryside around Ērgļi and have even started to use the Couch to 5k running app!
Dan usually stays active on the farm at Eagle’s Wings but unfortunately, he tripped and fell in the barn last week, injuring his back. His physiotherapist has helped him get moving again and recommends that he walks regularly. One of our favourite places to walk together is the Vedze Nature Trail, 17 km outside Ergļi. Here are a few photos from our walk there on Sunday 15th March:
Dan listened to Madona pastor Pēteris Eisāns’ sermon as we walked, but by the following Sunday, we were having our first trial church meeting via Zoom.
3. Take Notice
As I walked down the road with one of my clients on a rainy day, suddenly he stopped and spontaneously started to examine a big raindrop on the end of a twig. I had previously introduced him to the 5 Ways but he hadn’t been interested, as it just seemed like too much effort to add all those ‘extra’ things into his life. However, I now had the chance to ‘catch’ him doing it naturally and awarded him a ‘point’ for ‘taking notice’. As we continued down the road, I said hello to a teacher on her way back to school and my client then ‘caught’ me ‘connecting’ and gave me a point. We began to laugh and thus was formed an ongoing mutual joke, which has become a ritual we perform each week as we ‘notice’ each other’s ways of living well and reward ourselves with points. At the last count, I think I had 25!
At home, I have found immense pleasure this winter in watching the birds feeding outside my kitchen window. The first morning after schools closed in Latvia I took the time to film the birds, first in slow motion and then speeded up. Click here to watch! I find the audio just as fascinating as watching the beauty of the wing motion and colours of the feathers.
Another way I have been slowing down and taking notice is spending time in the evening painting. I am not an artist, although Chuck has tried to teach me, but, during my play therapy training, we often did painting exercises which I enjoyed immensely. I have been indulging in free painting, when I just start to paint with no plan in mind, simply paying attention to colour, line, and shape, the sensation of brushing the paint onto the paper, and the thoughts and feelings that arise in the process. Here are some of the results:
4. Keep Learning
I have spent the past seven years in some form of education and do not plan to stop learning anytime soon. In fact, I think I have become an eternal student! My most recent course, entitled “Trauma-informed Schools and Communities Practitioner” at the Institute for the Arts in Therapy and Education in London, extended my skills in supporting children, teachers, and parents and working towards a school environment that feels safe and welcoming for children who come from the hardest places. Whilst I find supporting children and parents very rewarding, it is sometimes harder to engage with teachers in a way that leads them to adopt a trauma-informed approach. Latvian teachers have had to engage with so many new challenges in recent years, including a brand new competency-based curriculum and now online learning, that they are wary of the next thing (often imported from ‘The West’) they have to add to their busy schedules.
Therefore, instead of immediately seeking to share this approach through staff training sessions, I’ve started by simply sitting down with teachers over a cup of tea (very British!) and listening deeply. In addition, I’ve been going through a steep learning curve as I’ve worked with web designer and former Partneri board member Māris Prindulis to create a trauma-informed resource website for teachers in Latvian entitled ‘A Success Story for Every Child’. I’m gradually forming a network of contributors from Latvia and overseas, and hope to make this a deep well from which teachers can draw. You can see a sneak preview of the front page here, but bear in mind the links do not yet lead anywhere!
I have been delighted and encouraged by the generosity I have encountered recently, especially in the creation of the stay Home Superheroes video. The author freely gave us copyright permission and the Croatian animator donated his time and talents. As colleagues in the UK have shared on social media the materials they use to help children in times of stress, I have connected with many who are willing to allow me to translate and share their work on my website.
This generosity reminded me of a talk given at our kids’ school last year by Chris Anderson, the Head of TED and a former pupil of the school. He talked about radical generosity and how TED’s success increased exponentially when they made the decision to make valuable content freely available online. At the beginning of the talk, he asked for 10 final year pupil volunteers, for a task to be given at the end of the talk. Our son Jonathan signed up and was very excited at the end, when Chris Anderson said he was going to transfer £1000 into each of their bank accounts to use for radical generosity, with the only requirement being that they write and tell him what they did with it. There followed a lively discussion, with pupils asking mature questions about the motivation for such generosity. I was reminded of the Latvian story, “Dots devējam atdodas” which reflects the biblical concept of “Give, and it will be given to you” (Luke 6:38) or “…whatever one sows, that he will also reap” (Galatians 6:7).
Of course there are no guarantees as to how we will be repaid for our generosity. In fact we may pay a heavy price. Whilst writing this piece, my Mum texted to say her elderly next-door-neighbour has tested positive for Covid-19. She and my step-dad are wonderfully generous neighbours to him, mowing his lawn, doing various chores and just last week helping him assemble a new chair. Now they are wondering what comes next. Is a truly radical generosity one which is also sacrificial?
I have tried to present some snapshots of my life here in Latvia at this extraordinary time in the history of the world, sharing just some of the ways I seek to bring the Kingdom of Heaven in my day-to-day life. I will leave you with a couple of tweets – the first is Chris Wheeler, our kids’ headmaster singing a bedtime song to his family – The Lord’s My Shepherd. The second is Essie and I singing the same song in Latvian.
May God bless and keep us all.
Katie Roth is a music therapist certified by the Confederation of Latvian Arts Therapy Associations and a play therapist certified by Play Therapy UK and Play Therapy International. She works in her local mainstream school with children who have social, emotional and behavioural difficulties. She worked for many years as a teacher in Latvian schools and kindergartens but quit teaching some years ago to focus on supporting children through therapy in the school setting.