I am pleased to introduce Sweet Water Foundation Int’l to the FashCam platform and audience. We speak with one voice.
Hazel Da Breo Phd, Psychotherapist & Founder of Sweet Water Foundation, for FashCam | I had just completed an internship with the forest monks of Chiang Mai, Thailand, awarded a certificate in Meditation Instruction, and was keen to share the experiences learned. On my return to Toronto, Canada, I began working towards my credentials as a Psychotherapist. As part of this training, I offered individual and group classes in meditation, using space within The Centre for Training in Psychotherapy at the downtown intersection of Dupont and Spadina. The space itself contained the warm silence of deep listening in its very cedar-paneled walls and floorboards. Over the years, my clientele grew. Meditation coaching began melding with formal psychodynamic psychotherapy as issues of increasing complexity found their way to the resonant, scintillating space, vibrating between the One and the Other; between this Psychotherapist and each member of her Clientele.
Although I had learned it in theory, it was not until a common dark presence began to manifest in the midst of the bright space between They and I, that as therapist I began to tune in to its existence with purpose. Many of my adult clients experiencing anxieties, relationship issues, sexuality complexes, depression, and all sorts of emotional and physical nuisances and traumas, all curiously appeared to have one thing in common. Not all, but many of these clients, coming from Canadian as well as Caribbean, Latin American, European, Indian and African backgrounds, appeared to have it? This one thing, lurking, leaking, seeping out from the pores of the skin and the cracks of their souls was Child Sexual Abuse. Slithering, whispering, half-hidden, running amok in the psychic underground, influencing behaviours in bed and boardrooms, and playing havoc across the planet.
I started wondering, whether sexual abuse might exist in the background of most individuals complaining of similar unfathomable, shadowy sadness? This described malaise which tumbled about all by itself “up in there”, spoke not in any singular dialect, but in a collective international language of ulcers, tumours, stricken and broken heart conditions, lung flus, gasping, suffocating asthmas and pneumonias, and slippery emotional neurosis along the sides. So I asked, gently, quietly, of my specific populace in my particular psychotherapy practice, whenever it seemed appropriate, whether child sexual trauma might be in back of these sufferings. I have not yet been told no.
This consistent reoccurrence left me puzzled. I tasked myself to dig deeper. To begin, Linda J. Butler, one of my dearest among my dearest of friends, and I co-founded the Sweet Water Foundation International in Toronto, with none less than a mission to end Child Sexual Abuse worldwide. We had an important goal but at the start had no real idea of what it all entailed, or how we would do it. Despite this, Sweet Water grew quickly. It began early to distinguish itself for placing emphasis on research, writing, and the development of a body of knowledge and evidence in the prevention and healing of Child Sexual Abuse.
As Sweet Water grew, I simultaneously had also begun spending a lot of time in Grenada, where I was born. I had left the island, in 1976 at age 17, to study French and the History of Art (other intense passions of mine) at Toronto’s York University. I ended up staying on in Canada, for a long and happy time, raising a beautiful family. I adore Toronto and hold the city close to my heart. My children, now adults and well travelled, however, try their best to persuade me that Toronto is only one lovely city amongst many in the world. They have a challenging uphill battle on their hands I assure you. I don’t care how many lovely cities there are, and I too am a seasoned traveller, Toronto is a home I adore.
While living in Toronto, Hurricanes Ivan and Emily devastated Grenada in 2004 and 2005 respectively, decimating a good 90% of the island’s physical and natural resources. I received a short but urgent phone call from a certain official, querying if I “didn’t see fit” to put my psychological experience to work helping my own people recover from their country’s disaster? The question was reasonable, in fact more I’m sure, as it turns out, than he had intended. My island home had been devastated. I had no choice but to return to its aid.
I decided to shift my operating base, forced sadly to abandon many sacred ‘I and They’ relationships. This cause and need I saw in Grenada was grave.
When you get off the airplane in Grenada, like many other islands in the incredible Caribbean, Grenada claims your senses right away, if not your whole soul. Grenada has been the ‘Isle of Spice’ for hundreds of years. And that’s not for nothing. One intake of this island’s air and you are intoxicated forever. And now the marketers have implemented a whole new branding for us here, “Pure Grenada”. Indeed.
Once settled in, I hurried to re-align myself with Caribbean energies, habits, and lifestyles. Not that I had ever abandoned any of them. I am a proud Caribbean woman, I love my birthplace and my umbilical cord is deeply buried in this soil. But, as I came to learn, there is a huge difference between a yearly 3-week or even a 3-month vacation, and actually dropping anchor and setting up business on the rock. I’m not lying when I say my transition was rough.
As part of my re-acquaintance with island ways, I decided to take in Trinidad’s carnival, rivalled by no other, except perhaps Brazil. Now, I am not good with crowds. I prefer the solitude of forest and ocean, so there is no questioning the overwhelmingly epic impact of a TnT (Trinidad and Tobago) Carnival. As I watched band after band flood by, warping time, geography, psychology and social consciousness with music, costumes, and masking, my focus became pulled to the masking. As a psychotherapist, I am always fascinated by this? I question what gets hidden behind there? What gets revealed? Who is leading whom, in the dance between spectator and performer, state and subject, victim and perpetrator, lover and beloved? The mask hides all and perhaps reveals everything.
I soon opened my Grenada practice and a sister affiliate to Toronto’s Sweet Water. I began to really dig deep into the healing I had been charged to do. And of course, the dark spectre I had met in Toronto arose again. Eventually, our local chapter developed a new group psychotherapy program, for adolescent girls who have experienced sexual abuse in any form, at any stage of their pasts.
One participant, an adolescent girl, had experienced incest from ages 9 to 17 until she finally found the courage to refuse her perpetrator, whose name was Dad. As a part of her healing journey, she masked every day. She did so as not to reveal the burden of betrayal, confusion, rage and grief that she struggled to process daily. When she played ‘mas, she was able to disengage from her painful reality, as if nothing was wrong within her family or her world.
In her self-prescribed ‘therapy’, she masked with the simplest of things at her disposal. She starved her body and denied it food to prove to herself that desire, including sexual desire, could be contained if it were willed. She starved herself to prove that the symbols of sexual readiness – mature breasts, hips, and genitalia – could be retarded by wilful developmental delay. She, the lovely adolescent Auricia, had hoped to set an example for adult self-control, by her own refusal of all basic human urges. Auricia cut herself where the markings would be seen, in further demonstration that the pain of physical suffering had no effect upon the sanctity of her immortal soul. As her warrior tattoos described, she could take anything and survive it.
But backlash came. Auricia’s gamine appearance, a mixture of interrupted innocence and a mother superior’s aloof froideur, was found attractive by men in her village. They pestered her like flies. Auricia learned to play with this backwater behaviour, taking and rebuffing the males of the species with terrifying calculation and compose. She revelled in her new-found power, and fought down an increasingly potent suspicion that she was somehow missing out on some other more authentic way of living and being. She drank. She took drugs. She masked more to hide it, under layers of make-up, powders, and false hair. Never had despair been presented in such an alluring way.
At 18, Auricia was scouted by an American tourist who promised her the pages of Vogue. And she disappeared off island never to be seen again. She has left the lot of us turning pages of fashion magazines everywhere, not seeing her, yet seeing her representation where she should have been. Interrupted innocence, Madonna meets Basquiat, the sacred gorged by the profane.
There are many more girls like Auricia, on Grenada, in Canada and many other cities and remote places around the world. What was initially a dare to come and help my home island ‘recover’ from one natural disaster has become a global human cause to lead. Talk about finding one’s core purpose. I am passionate about this. Sweet Water’s work is focused here in Grenada at the moment, because this is the place I know, but throughout my practice and travels, it has been evidenced that this dark spectre of Child Sexual Abuse lurks eerily everywhere, for young girls as well as young men. It manifests in ways and places you’d be surprised to know.
Over the last decade, I have worked, personally and professionally, as a consultant to many UN bodies, including UNWomen, UNICEF, UNDP and PAHO. Now, Sweet Water Foundation can provide formalized, organized structure to a mission that serves an international need. We have been funded by the Sandals Foundation of Jamaica in regards to our psychotherapy group for adolescent victims of child sexual abuse. We are also partnered with StopItNow!, an American agency, in the implementation of preventive methods. In recognition of the unique, creative, scholastically rigorous, and science-based effectiveness of our programs, we have been invited to deliver a keynote address at the Global Implementation Conference in Dublin, 2015. Sweetwater is the only Caribbean agency to be invited to this esteemed global dialogue.
I am pleased to introduce Sweet Water Foundation Int’l to the FashCam platform and audience. We speak with one voice. I’m excited and can easily appreciate the tremendous potential of our collaborative work. FashCam brings the technology, connectivity, new audiences and voices to help Sweet Water spread its word. Coach Ty’s brilliant mission of self-empowerment through WE THE STRONG is in perfect alignment with what Linda, our board members and I had envisioned, day one.
It’s certainly also notable too that this collaboration is led by two indomitable Leos, both of whom like to dress well, sit alone in the forest, and who have done their share of masking.
Whither do we go, besides hand in hand, to champion the wellbeing of others, together?