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Feast of St John Eudes
August 19 @ 8:00 am - 5:00 pm
Celebrating Feast of St John Eudes at Good Shepherd Centre, 2019
When I think of St John Eudes, I would look at the symbol I proudly wear and the interconnectedness between the hearts of Jesus and Mary would come to mind. “The way to the heart of Jesus is through Mary and the way to the heart of Mary is through Jesus.” The deep intimacy between mother and child was the message we wanted our residents to experience. Good Shepherd Centre (GSC) in Singapore houses residents experiencing family violence. Mothers are busy applying for legal protections, sustaining their employment and caregiving for their children without much support from their families. Children are struggling to adjust to new living environments and routines as well as longer commutes to and fro school. Hardly do they have time to bond and play together. At the time of this programme, 65% of all the children living at GSC were below the age of 5 years old. During this critical period of early child development, GSC chose to celebrate the feast of St John Eudes by briefly introducing St John Eudes and his teachings to the residents as well as to provide a platform for mother-child bonding through age appropriate tactile and sensory play.
I had the privilege of attending a course, sponsored by GSC, facilitated by creative play therapist, Caroline Essame, who specialises in play based learning. She emphasises the importance of messy play. ‘Mess and Tolerance [is] the first stage of true creative development and that creativity is important for social, emotional and cognitive development… many of the intuitive emotional coping skills are wired in the brain in the early years of messy play.’ During the course we tried our hands at several messy play activities and I decided to introduce one such activity to our residents. Each family had one basin where water was poured in. It was most amusing that the children instinctively splashed the waters while most mothers instinctively tried to keep surrounding area dry. I had explained to them the importance of playing with the children, the importance of mess and assured them that we will clean up together. Then I poured enough flour in the water until the mixture becomes ‘gooey’ and sticky. The children got really excited and started to smear their ‘art’ all over, including on their mothers’ face. By this time, most mothers were relaxed and ‘attacked’ their children back. The room was filled with laughter… and a lot of flour.
Lots of Flour & Fun!!!
Next, we added food dye to the flour mixture to allow the children to explore mixing different colours. “More, more, more!” they shouted for more colours to be added in. Finally enough flour was added until it was less sticky and ready to be moulded. I told them that they had to mould figurines with the theme of family love. Interestingly, it was observed that some mothers were even more engrossed in the rolling and knitting as compared to their young ones who had short attention span. Most made cute figurines of their family members. One mother chose to make figurines of different food her children enjoyed eating. They were new residents who were still adjusting to their stay. “Judging from how picky my children are about food, you can guess that food is a big theme in our family, so food symbolises my family.” I remarked that family is truly not only about where we live but about being together, eating together. She responded with the warmest smile I have seen on her face. Another family made a boat. Back in their country in their earlier days, they used to travel a lot by boat and those were their best memories as a family.
Figurine of a mother carrying her baby tightly in their arms
The feedback from the session were that most mothers and their children played such messy play for the first time in their life. It was initially uncomfortable but a new and refreshing experience. The mothers laughed that they wanted to clean up after their child, worry if the stains on their clothes could be removed (I assured them the stains could definitely be removed) but felt more relaxed and enjoyed themselves when they joined in the fun instead of worrying. Some said it was good exercise and others said it is helpful for destress. One resident said she would never expect to be playing like that in her adult life. Some children enjoyed play so much that they brought their mouldable flour-water mixture back into their rooms to continue to play at their own time.
Staff were touched that the residents, adults and children alike, took turns to help to clean up as they waited for their turn to shower. This whole experience, for me, was like the metaphor of our mission. When the residents first step into our doors, they often felt like a mess without any sense of control. Gradually, they learned not only learned to be comfortable with chaos but to create something beautiful and meaningful out of it. As always at GSC, we journey together to attend to the chaos, staff and residents working hand-in-hand.
As I was cleaning up with everyone, I couldn’t help but to smile to myself. Our spiritual father, St John Eudes, would have been so proud of all of us for celebrating his feast day in such a significant manner.
By Sr Fiona Yeo