Aldana began by providing clinical psychological care for children and young people on an individual basis. This was a crucial resource in the early days of her work, especially for families with limited means who could not otherwise afford any kind of psychological care.
In order to expand the reach of this support, she set up a telephone line for initial consultations and trained up a team of professionals to whom she could refer patients. Aldana soon realized the importance of moving beyond private practice to make her concerns about how we cope with death a question for the whole of society.
She created opportunities for specialized training for health professionals, preparing them to approach the subject of death in a way that is both human centered and life affirming. As well as specific content relating to grief, her training equips participants to recognize the different stages of grief and the difference between normal and pathological grief. More fundamentally, it calls on them to join her in bringing about the cultural change that she would like to see. Aldana is now working to build a network of professionals in other provinces of Argentina.
In schools, she trains teachers to talk about death and grieving in a classroom setting; showing them how, through games and rituals, children can get through the experience and how their classmates can play a part in this process. Teachers also learn to identify the specific needs of children who are grieving and where to refer them for the help they need.
At present, Aiken is embarking on a group approach for children going through grief, one for those aged between five and 11 and another for teenagers aged between 12 and 17. The process takes the form of ten weekly meetings, each lasting an hour and a half and led by a therapist and a co-therapist, both of whom are specialists in the subject of grief and experienced in managing groups of children. This approach makes it possible to strengthen the children’s own capacities for healing, and the group format helps them to explore skills and competences for coping with this situation and with others they may face in their lives.
The lack of statistical data, and the sense that policies for public health and education need to incorporate Aiken’s approach, gave impetus to the development of the organization’s research activities. The first step is to document the number of children and young people who have lost their parents, as a first foray into generating statistical data on this issue.
Aiken’s message has already begun to gain a foothold on the public agenda. Aldana has made numerous appearances on the radio, on television and in the press, emphasizing that there is no magic formula for dealing with the death of a loved one. Nevertheless, it is possible to transform institutions, workplaces and schools so that they are better equipped to offer support, and do not add to the experience of isolation and confusion that people typically experience at this time. A number of companies, including Telecom and Havas Media Communications, have already been in contact with Aiken and have participated in the first training workshops.
Aiken is available in multiple schools throughout the country including Colegio Santa Teresa de Jesús, Colegio Babar, Escuela N 18. Juan E. Pestalozzi, Instituto Educativo Modelo, Colegio No 22 de Isidro Casanova. It has also expanded to teacher training centers including Centro de capacitación, información e investigación educativa PILAR, Habonim Dror Argentina, Movimiento Juvenile. Other groups Aiken works with include Grupo Renacer, in Neuquén province. Grupo de residentes de Cuidados Paliativos Hospital Udaondo, Defensa Civil,
Grupo Jardín del Pilar. Cementerios Parque, Empleados de Sepelio de AMIA.
Contacted by other companies: Telecom, Havas Media Group. In addition, Aldana and Aiken are getting visibility through local media including Diario La Nación (national media), América Noticias (TV national news), as well as on radio stations in provinces throughout the country.
Aiken is currently growing at a remarkable rate, and has begun to explore the possibility of joining forces with the Ministry for Social Development to work with women’s cooperatives and provide them with training in grief support. These women, from highly vulnerable social groups, are inherently motivated to acquire the tools to handle death in their families, and they will have a natural multiplier effect for Aiken’s vision.