Aldana Di Costanzo

Ashoka Fellow
aldanadicostanzo_headshot.jpg
Argentina
Fellow Since 2016

 

Aldana fundó Aiken con el fin de generar un cambio cultural, y brindar tanto a niños como a adultos herramientas para transitar la muerte de un ser querido, entender la muerte como parte de la vida, y como una situación que puede servir para generar una nueva realidad. Hoy, Aiken es la única organización social del país que trabaja en esta temática, para lo cual ha desarrollado especialmente herramientas y metodologías.

 

Aiken busca crear un entorno más saludable y empático para los niños y adolescentes que se encuentran atravesando esta difícil situación. A través de la organización, Aldana ha desarrollado una nueva perspectiva acerca de cómo abordar el tema de la muerte, y está impulsando una cultura en donde el tema está presente en las conversaciones del día a día.  

 

Aiken tiene diversas líneas de trabajo: espacios individuales y grupales para niños, adolescentes y los adultos a cargo, orientación telefónica, talleres, asesoramientos  y capacitaciones. Las intervenciones con los niños están basadas en el juego y el arte. En las instituciones educativas capacitan a los docentes para que puedan generar un entorno de empatía y contención cuando sucede alguna situación de duelo, alentando a los estudiantes para que puedan crear un espacio donde todos puedan expresar sus sentimientos, a medida que interiorizan y entienden el concepto de la muerte y el duelo.

 

This description of Aldana Di Costanzo's work was prepared when Aldana Di Costanzo was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2016 .

Introduction

Aldana has created a new approach towards the subject of death and is developing a culture where this topic is included in everyday conversation. Through her organization – Aiken, Aldana is training health professionals on the subject of grief and mourning in childhood. As there are few people trained in this subject in Argentina, Aiken is even more relevant as it is a community approach which works with companies and organizations. Aldana makes these institutions a central space from where to build this new concept.
Aldana works on several levels, one of them is at the level of the individual and family, the median through which she works with them is based on play and art in the form of peer to peer therapy. In schools, she is training teachers so that they can create an empathetic environment for the child grieving process where there are people children can go to, to express their feelings.
Aldana works in various levels: in the individual and family level, with therapies based on playing and arts, and peer to peer processes. In schools they are training teachers to be able to create empathy in class when there are children facing grief. She enables their classmates to participate in this situation by creating a separate space for the other children in the class to express their feelings as they understand death and grief. This is due to the fact that their own questions or emotional reactions can deepen the pain the child is already facing through their loss.
Aldana lived through several episodes of grief as a child, and these experiences drove her to create Aiken. Through the organization she aims to bring about a cultural shift, giving both children and adults the tools to cope with the death of a family member as an experience that is part of life, and one which can serve to bring it new meaning.
This is what Daniel, 15, experienced when he came to Aiken after losing his parents. His aunt and uncle brought him to the organization because he was feeling very sad. He had lost interest in everything, and they didn’t know how to be there for him in his grief. At Aiken, Daniel was able to recapture his memories of his parents and talk about them, remembering family anecdotes and the things they took pleasure in. He reconnected to his mother’s love of orchids, and decided to take part in a gardening project which, soon afterwards, would become his profession. Through his grieving process, Daniel was able to find new meaning in his pain and to make sense of what had happened to him. Daniel’s story, like those of many of the young people who have passed through Aiken, reaffirms the importance of coming to terms with death in order to live fully.
Aldana is now bringing the subject of death and how to approach it to a wider, strategically selected audience (focusing particularly on schools and the media) with the capacity to help bring this issue into the public arena both quickly and organically.

The New Idea

Aldana has created a new approach towards the subject of death and is developing a culture where this topic is included in everyday conversation. Through her organization – Aiken, Aldana is training health professionals on the subject of grief and mourning in childhood. As there are few people trained in this subject in Argentina, Aiken is even more relevant as it is a community approach which works with companies and organizations. Aldana makes these institutions a central space from where to build this new concept.
Aldana works on several levels, one of them is at the level of the individual and family, the median through which she works with them is based on play and art in the form of peer to peer therapy. In schools, she is training teachers so that they can create an empathetic environment for the child grieving process where there are people children can go to, to express their feelings.
Aldana works in various levels: in the individual and family level, with therapies based on playing and arts, and peer to peer processes. In schools they are training teachers to be able to create empathy in class when there are children facing grief. She enables their classmates to participate in this situation by creating a separate space for the other children in the class to express their feelings as they understand death and grief. This is due to the fact that their own questions or emotional reactions can deepen the pain the child is already facing through their loss.
Aldana lived through several episodes of grief as a child, and these experiences drove her to create Aiken. Through the organization she aims to bring about a cultural shift, giving both children and adults the tools to cope with the death of a family member as an experience that is part of life, and one which can serve to bring it new meaning.
This is what Daniel, 15, experienced when he came to Aiken after losing his parents. His aunt and uncle brought him to the organization because he was feeling very sad. He had lost interest in everything, and they didn’t know how to be there for him in his grief. At Aiken, Daniel was able to recapture his memories of his parents and talk about them, remembering family anecdotes and the things they took pleasure in. He reconnected to his mother’s love of orchids, and decided to take part in a gardening project which, soon afterwards, would become his profession. Through his grieving process, Daniel was able to find new meaning in his pain and to make sense of what had happened to him. Daniel’s story, like those of many of the young people who have passed through Aiken, reaffirms the importance of coming to terms with death in order to live fully.
Aldana is now bringing the subject of death and how to approach it to a wider, strategically selected audience (focusing particularly on schools and the media) with the capacity to help bring this issue into the public arena both quickly and organically.

The Problem

A death in the family is always a very painful experience, and most adults do their best to help their children get through it. However, adults caring for children and young people who are grieving tend not to know how best to support them through the process and prevent them from experiencing what is clinically known as “inhibited grief”. This abnormal form of grieving can have very serious effects on individual development, families and communities.
Grief tends to be something that we bottle up, and when we do allow ourselves to pay attention to it, it is treated as a personal health issue. Schools completely ignore the subject of death, and, when a death in the family occurs, we often avoid talking about it because of the stress and turmoil it stirs up.
Aldana trained as a psychologist, and motivated by her own personal history, she came to specialize in the area of children’s grief. Through her professional training and her own experience, she realized that childhood grief is an issue that institutions working with children on a daily basis fail to address, and that families lack the appropriate resources to deal with it.
Very often it is adults who are unable to express their feelings when confronted with death, and so they avoid discussing it. This means that children are denied the chance to express their own emotions. These difficulties are heightened by the preconception that children cannot really understand what happens when somebody dies, which causes adults to keep them on the sidelines, conceal certain facts or lie to them.
Aldana decided to turn this deficiency into an opportunity, and so she designed training workshops for teachers and relatives of children and young people who are grieving. Her goal is to help people accept death as part of life, and to create more comfortable and empathetic environments for children and young people who find themselves going through the process of grief. Children who are living through this experience often feel like they are “abnormal”, and this perception intensifies their pain and makes the process much more difficult.
In all aspects of children’s grief there is still insufficient statistical data, and a lack of clinical studies which might allow us to document the scale of the issue. Aldana began to produce this information herself, in order to be able to position the subject within educational and health organizations on a sound scientific basis.
Some companies began to approach her for training in how to handle grief. Aldana is showing society that we need to start seeing death in a different light, and preparing individuals and institutions to make this mental shift.

The Strategy

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.

The Person

When Aldana was six years old, she was faced with the first of many losses which she was to suffer in her life when her dad died of cancer. At the time, her mom was only 38 years old.
Aldana and her family carried on as best they could, but without any specialist help. She focused most of her energy on rhythmic gymnastics, later becoming part of the national team where she stood out as a committed and determined athlete. After finishing school, she studied psychology at university and always felt drawn to issues relating to grief.
In the course of her training, she became familiar with the work of Elizabeth Kübler-Ross and learned about the ways in which children were supported in European countries. She was struck by how valuable such support would have been to her and her family. Upon investigation she found that nothing like this existed in Argentina, and so, in 2008, she decided to found Aiken.
Keen to share her vision with others, she contacted the Palliative Care Unit at the Enrique Tornú Hospital in Buenos Aires, which was supportive of her idea and asked to be a part of it. There, as well as gaining experience, she got to know various individuals who joined the project and helped to shape its development. Over Aiken’s eight-year history, it has made slow but steady progress in an area that did not previously exist in Argentina. The organization was brought about through a great deal of effort on Aldana’s part, and is now led by a team of 25 people. In Aiken, Aldana found a way to heal her own pain, and it has become her mission.