Images of grieving orphans in Third World countries are common on the television, and while they may tug at our hearts, it’s difficult to find an appropriate response or know how to help. But the GSE’s Susan Halverson-Westerberg did just that.
In 2013, Halverson-Westerberg visited Kenya, where she met with Reverend David Chuchu, director of the Diakonia Compassionate Ministry in Kisumu, which provides support for children who have lost their parents due to conflict, famine, or illness. Halverson-Westerberg’s local church, Zion Lutheran of Portland, Oregon, supports this mission, and she and her husband Jim traveled there to see the newly built Rescue Center.
Halverson-Westerberg had another reason for her trip. As a faculty member in the Counselor Education Department, she researches the impact of grief and dying on children and families. She wanted to use this trip as an opportunity to better understand how another culture deals with grief and to gain insight to develop supports and curriculum for students and children in her work locally.
“When I visited Kenya in 2013, I was very taken with the many beautiful orphans who had lost one or both parents due to illness and accidents. If there are no other family members left to help, even losing one parent can land a child in an orphanage or rescue center since that one parent cannot work and care for the child,” Halverson-Westerberg said. “I felt there was a need to give something to these children to help them feel they are still part of a larger family, since family is so important in Africa.”
Halverson-Westerberg decided to write a book that could be used as a tool to develop dialog with children who have lost one or both parents. Her book, Margaret’s Family Tree: A Story of Hope and Belonging (2016), is a coloring book designed to help children work through their grief in a constructive way and to help them acknowledge feelings about their lost loved ones. The book is written in both English and Swahili. It is illustrated in black and white by Oregon artist Edna M. Kennel. Halvorson-Westerberg is offering it free for duplication to anyone working with children, especially in African countries. A second version in color is planned for release soon.
Halverson-Westerberg is an associate professor and coordinator of the Marital, Couple, and Family Counseling specialization. She has a PhD in counselor education from the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, and has taught at PSU since 1999.