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Director's Corner - March 2020

Updated: Mar 30



I have started to write this “Director’s Corner” at least five times since January. Each time there was a new development, challenge or programmatic activity that changed the focus of the message. Now we face the societal pandemic of the Coronavirus, and the focus has shifted again. So, let me convey the essential message on behalf of the Bellevue Program for Survivors of Torture that we sincerely hope that you, your families and cherished ones are in good health and maintaining positive spirits. It is not an easy time, but we are committed to doing everything we can to make sure that our marginalized and vulnerable client population receives the treatment and support they merit during this crisis. All while trying to maintain a safe environment for all who work with the program. You have probably received numerous communications speaking to the best ways to care for yourselves and loved ones during this pandemic, but they bear repeating:

  • Wash your hands often and thoroughly with warm water and soap.

  • Refrain from social activities that place you in crowds. If you feel sick, please stay at home. Contact your physician by telephone, and self-isolate. (This is preferable to coming to an ER with mild symptoms, where you may be exposed to (or cause) more risk than you would if you stayed at home. Your healthcare provider can specify when they think it would be appropriate for you to come to the ER for more acute symptoms.

  • If you have further questions or concerns, please contact the city’s COVID-19 Hotline at: 1-844-NYC-4NYC.


At times like this, though, I lean on the shared wisdom and insights from our clients – who are true survivors in every sense of the word. These are people who have endured epidemics in their homelands, warfare, deprivation, and adjusting to “the new normal” when the reality is anything but “normal.” Their words are gentle, yet powerful. “Shared humanity - L’esprit de partage” – In essence, this means being kind to one another. It seems simple, but it isn’t. Shared humanity is what connects us and enables us to overcome what is overwhelming or dehumanizing. Shared humanity is our best weapon against despair. “There’s a huge difference between circumstances and character.” – Times change. Turbulence comes and goes. Wealth waxes and wanes. Uncertainty abounds. Who are we, though? That is the essential question during critical times.  Are we the same caring, hopeful and engaged people we were a couple of weeks ago? Who will we be a couple of weeks from now? Holding onto our character is key for tolerating what is currently intolerable and being prepared to move forward with life when the circumstances change again (and they will). “Rien n’est facile, mais tout est possible” – “Nothing is easy, but everything is possible.” There is no doubt that these next months are going to be painful. The health ramifications of the disease will touch us all, as well as the associated economic, social and behavioral realities. We should even prepare for personal loss within our extended families or our community of friends. Times will be hard – there is no avoiding that – but we can also focus on what is possible. Being emotionally present and supportive for one another, even if we are socially distant. Finding ways to grow, even as the context around us shifts. “Finding opportunity within limitations.”  Our daily lives will change. The notion of “hunkering down” or self-quarantine is scary (especially to us Type-A, hyperactive, New Yorkers). It is easy to focus on what we cannot do, but there may be some true opportunities to take things at a different pace and explore aspects of our being that we’ve perhaps been meaning to, but just “haven’t had the time.”  Our clients teach us that sometimes it is OK, or even beneficial, to sit still and reflect. We may find the occasion to call and reconnect with dear friends who have become distant over the years. We may be able to focus, contemplate, and come to a better understanding of our true priorities. We may come face to face with what is truly important to us and who we truly are. This process is not easy and it does not happen without taking some time to think and feel. Perhaps this the “gift in dirty wrapping paper” we are being afforded now.  “The proactive and active nature of hope.” – Anyone who has ever heard me talk in public knows how members of the Francophone group taught me long ago that hope is something you do, as opposed to something you have. It is a behavior, a comportment, and a commitment that allows us to utilize the wisdom and courage we all possess.  Putting forth the effort to hope is not easy during difficult times, but it is at such moments that it is most crucial. I have seen this in action already. Our clients have been setting up phone trees and informal internet platforms just to be able to check in on one another and share information that they receive from the program. We are translating updated information into as many languages as possible and working to get the information to as many people as possible. We have moved toward providing more telephonic services. We are trying to balance the need to provide services and the need to keep all of our PSOT family (staff, clients, volunteers, and community) as safe as possible. So, be prudent. Stay as safe as you can. Wash your hands.  Be kind. Hold on to your character. Reconnect. Take time to reflect. Keep hoping and moving forward.  I give these small tidbits from the best source I know. Those who truly know what it is to survive, and then to thrive once again.

One love, Hawk


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