Owl and Panther

Writing from the Darkness.

"The creator asked all of the animals to watch and stay awake for seven nights. Only the owl and panther complied and so the creator gave them the power to see in the dark." -- from a Cherokee creation story

In addition to the physical and emotional burdens survivors of torture and refugees carry, they endure physical and cultural displacement while adjusting to life in a foreign culture. Children of these families are at risk of failing at school and being lured into the underside of society.

The Hopi Foundation's Center for Prevention and Resolution of Violence has facilitated a support group since 1995 as a direct result of the parents' request for a program that would help their children. The center offers refugees summer school and regular meetings throughout the year that celebrate cultures and develop skills to help the transition into American life.

Since 1998, I've facilitated the writing component along with social worker Marianna Neil and director Amy Shubitz. This group of children, young adults and parents from Central America, Mexico and Africa, embraced the legend of the owl and panther and took the name to honor their own watchfulness through the dark.

In the Owl and Panther group, we write poetry to express feelings and to stay connected to our cultures and inner resourcefulness. We remember the past, explore strategies to live thoughtfully, and put voice to hopes for the future. We reach out to others in service projects, raising money for earthquake victims in El Salvador and India. We interview people from other cultures to learn about history and geography, boosting communication skills that help in school and work. In the process participants discover they're not alone in their struggle--that others experienced and overcame fear and violence.

I've watched participants write out of their personal darkness and grow in confidence as they displayed their work at the Tucson-Pima Public Library or given talks to University of Arizona medical school students and church groups. This year these mostly shy individuals read at a ceremony at the ancient ruins on the Hopi reservation in Northern Arizona, the Beyond Sanctuary Reunion in Tucson and a torture conference at Catholic University in Washington, D.C.

To be reminded of humankind's cruelty is disturbing. But in working with Owl and Panther I have also seen the best that people have to offer. Through the actions of survivors, their families, helping professionals and volunteers, I have come to know their determination and dedication, kindness and generosity as well as a courage to survive horrors most of us could never imagine.

By Wendy Salazar Jimenez

Ask me about war and killing
Ask me about torture and fear
Ask me about hate and hunger
Ask me about my childhood
Ask me about my hopes and dreams
But don't ask me about happiness yet

By Dienaba Yaya Ba

They took me with them
Showing me how to walk
around the storm
Owl and Panther is their name
Young and smart and helpful
I walk
there is another storm
I walk around it
all by myself.
Thank you Owl and Panther.

By Vicky Hernandez

You hear the word Sanctuary and you don't know what to expect.
You think of people but you don't know what kind
until you meet.
Sanctuary people are
hope, love, future and heroes
for lots and lots of refugees.
We refugees express feelings through poems, songs and stories.
We have lots of stories to tell.
Stories as refugees and stories about our brave Sanctuary friends.
Our stories have pain, sadness, hopes, happiness and love in them.
Give us a second to know each other and don't judge us
before we meet.
Why do some people see us differently?
When all we want is
hope and a better life.
Refugees and Sanctuary people
true friends
with a revolutionary soul.

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