Yesterday I ran a group with older adults in low income housing. It was my first time meeting this group of 14, all of whom were Chinese or Russian except for 2 African American women. Only the latter 2 women, 1 Russian woman, and 1 Chinese couple spoke English. I figured out pretty quickly that I was going to need to lead this group mostly nonverbally.
At the end of the group, a Russian man who spoke no English came over to me and extended his hand. When I placed my hand in his, he bent down and kissed it. As he stood again releasing my hand, he looked into my eyes. I saw tears in his. Several other people came up to me and thanked me, verbally or nonverbally. Those who could speak English asked when I was coming back, hoping it was next week. While I often get lots of positive feedback after a group, it felt as though people were much more touched by this group. Later in the evening I had a chance to reflect on the group, thinking about what made it so poignant. Here are some of my thoughts.
I always begin group by shaking hands and getting each person's name. Some of the names were difficult to say and remember, but I persisted until I got each one. One of the songs we sang is a Tommy Dorsey song called "You". I use this in most of my groups, asking people to sing lalala except to sing "You, wonderful you", as they point to others in the circle. As I did this, I asked them for the Chinese word for you, which I was told was "nee" and the Russian word which was something like "tee". We all pointed to one another and sang you, nee and tee.
Without words, I gave directives to stand in 2 lines facing each other, each of us with a partner in the other line. I had one person initate a movement which we all did as we took 4 steps toward our partner and 4 steps back. If I were to do this again, I would have one of the lines move over 1 person so that we could get to partner with different people.
I imagine that these folks very much appreciated my attempts to learn their names even though it was difficult, and to learn even one word of their language. I also realized that they probably don't have many opportunities to interact with one another without speaking a common language. I brought the common language ~ the language of movement and dance. E. filling out my evaluation, wrote "We hope we have more chance to have such wonderful program." May it be so.