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Episode 7

We’re All Just Walking Each Other Home

Tati Fregosi, AGCI Associate Program Director of Colombia

[MS] You’re listening to Together by AGCI. I’m Madi Salvati.

It’s been almost one month since we started quarantine here in Washington, and AGCI’s headquarters in Vancouver have faced a major shift in how we keep going about our efforts effectively and safely. While it’s strange and sometimes tough to not be all together, I can’t help but think about our Independence Sponsorship program that supports the young women of the Dream Home in Bogota, Colombia. These amazing young women have endured an intense lockdown since the end of March, right around the time the virus really started to have a global impact. Colombia’s strict quarantine was supposed to end on April 13th, but has now been extended for another two weeks. Early on, this meant AGCI’s Associate Program Director of Colombia, Tati Fregosi, would have to return home to the US and leave her place at the Dream Home as not only a mentor, but as a facilitator of key healing practices and therapies for these young women. While Tati is now trying to maintain a new reality by supporting the Dream Home from afar, I recorded this episode with her just as she was on the cusp of leaving for Colombia back in August of 2019. Her goal then and now has been to help implement a healing practice called Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI®) at the Dream Home.

Obviously, everything has changed since then. But now, more than ever, the young women of the Dream Home are facing many challenges that TBRI® seeks to address. Tati will give us an insight on the healing powers of TBRI® in this episode, along with how it’s affected her personally. While times are uncertain right now, Tati’s commitment to the Dream Home and TBRI® is absolutely unwavering.

So without further ado, here’s Tati:

You’ve been with AGCI for two years and so much has happened. I want to use this time first to talk about your role in all of it. With the initial vision and goals at All God’s Children, how have you seen that part of AGCI evolve, and how have you evolved with it?

[TF] Oh, man. Big questions. Um, yeah, so I, when I first started, I was, my first entry into AGCI was through the adoption team and I was on the inquiry team, which is basically, you know, first point of contact for families as they’re determining whether or not international adoptions for them were for them and our programs. And, um, I’ve always, I’ve had a background in international development and been very concerned with tangible poverty alleviation intersecting or intercepting cycles of, um, injustice that are happening on different levels. But as far as the orphan crisis, I didn’t have much of a background. So when I entered into AGCI it was kind of like drinking through a water hose. Um, and here in Korea I had, and even when I first started in programs, I had a lot of the same misconceptions as a lot of people do when they think about adoption, when they think about the orphan crisis. And the picture that comes to mind is, um, you know, a small child languishing in an institution with no family. It’s like, that is true, but that is such a small piece of, um, the reality of the orphan cycle. So I think my personal evolution has been huge. Um, and just diving deeper and deeper and understanding the nuances and all of these different things that affect biological family’s ability to stay together ultimately like all of those different factors. So it’s been enormous. It kind of went from an eager desire to just help in general to a lot more concentrated understanding of, Oh, okay, what’s mine to do in this? And I found and feel a lot of joy that I get to work specifically with a group. I’m focusing on aging out because I love young adults and I love that college age, the ability to have those deep conversations and to do the work with caregivers, but also with, um, with the girls about, yeah. What, what do you think is a piece of your story that’s impacting what’s going on now? And, um, walking alongside that healing and understanding. So it’s been a huge evolution. It feels kind of impossible to capture, but, um, but yeah, from initial days in inquiry, just learning about the realities of adoption and all of the different things that ethically need to take place to, um, ensure that a child who has no other option for family is given that opportunity, um, through international adoption. And yeah.

One of the biggest initiatives AGCI has pursued is called the Dream Home in Bogota, Colombia. The Dream Home is now to home to 24 young women who are attending university. For most of these young women, this is their first real home. They have spent most of their lives growing up in institutions where the needs they have as students and individuals were not being met. Prior to the creation of the Dream Home, there were two options for young women that grew up in institutions: either attend university while remaining in an institution designed to protect young children, OR try to carve out a life with no support system or education. Since its launch in 2018, the Dream Home has provided transitional housing so that these incredible young women can pursue their degrees and learn what it means to be an independent adult all in a safe, supportive environment.

[TF] I’ve been, you know, working on with our programs and with our partners in Colombia for the last year and a half or so. But at the beginning of this year, I had the opportunity to spend about a month and a half, um, working directly in the dream home with the girls, with our incredible staff. I went into that trip with some concrete goals to, um, really successfully launch our English language program and, um, build some strong systems that needed a little bit more of an administrative finesse there. There was some concrete goals that I had in mind and I was very surprised, um, to just find that God had more for me I guess when, when I arrived, I had been before, but it was kind of immediate. As soon as I got to country during this particular trip, I had a sense like, Oh, this is, this is definitely the beginning of something new and the beginning of something bigger, um, in my own, in my own heart and life and how that relates to Colombia and the work. So, um, I think through the relationships that I was able to build with our staff team to see the way that they’re working with the girls and then the privilege of that, um, really up close view of the girls.

[MS] So it sounds like this initiative has just had an incredible impact on your life. Can you tell me about a specific moment that really just lit the fire for your passion at the Dream Home?

[TF] Yeah, I mean, one specific. So many of the girls come to mind and of course with a group like this, the path is not a like a smooth uphill. It’s like, I mean it’s like life is mostly for all of us. We expect a smooth uphill, but it’s dips and dives, but hopefully, um, headed upwards, if that makes sense. But, um, yeah, I think one specific girl comes to mind and just kind of sharing. She was, she grew up outside of the city in a diff… in a different part of Colombia and um, had just bounced around different institutional environments her whole life and had kind of a dangerous… Just had a lot, you know, as many of our girls do. And just the reality of being in a consistent space with girls her age, she’s told me time and time again has been transformative. Just coming something as little as coming downstairs and seeing the same people, um, in that space, welcoming, warm, inviting her into the kitchen, which is just not even a possibility before.

[MS] How has your initial experiences at the dream home created a momentum for other programs you help with in Colombia?

[TF] It just became pretty clear that this was the beginning of something and this is an opportunity with all of the things that God is doing in Colombia across the board with us having launched the dream home only about a year ago. Um, and just that’s a huge program and caregiver training, um, bringing TBRI to all of our partners, our education, sponsorship program, relationships with the government and moving the message. And the healing. Yeah. The healing, um, strategies of TBRI forward. There’s just so much going on.

[MS] Tati mentioned two initiatives that go hand in hand that AGCI has facilitated in Colombia: Trust Based Relational Intervention, or TBRI®, and caregiver training. TBRI® is about understanding the importance of how to care for and meet the needs of a child who comes from hard beginnings. We partnered with Texas Christian University to develop a TBRI®-based training specifically for caregivers in institutions in Colombia. Ultimately, training caregivers, leaders, and influencers in Colombia, using the model of TBRI® will help break the cycle that leaves thousands of children lost in the child-welfare system each year.

So with everything surrounding the Dream Home, and caregiver training and TBRI®, what has been the hardest thing about your role in all of it?

[TF] I think. I mean, it relates so closely to TBRI® in which that work is about the caregiver. It’s not about the child, right? So it’s about us doing the hard work of knowing ourselves well, of knowing our stories and of knowing, um, creating space to know other people’s stories, um, in a way that might positively transform our interactions in our ability to understand. But, and it’s so beautiful and it’s also so hard. So, for example, I just know, um, uh, especially through this process of diving into family of origin and, um, attachment style for myself based on my childhood and my unique wiring that, um, there’s a big temptation for me at any moment in time to prematurely spin something into a positive, um, which really doesn’t enable you to get the full picture. And there’s something really important about sitting in the hard reality of something and, and then moving forward with the complete picture in mind.

During this last round of caregiver training, we were spending some time in the home as we always do. And there was, um, a little boy who was sitting at a table doing a craft. We saw he had this playdough heart shape and there were just these little brown balls. Like it was this cute little heart with all these little round balls in it. And the, the teacher who was kind of leading the classroom led us into this boys little boys story. And it was basically, he’d been waiting. He had had a scheduled visit with his parents and with his family members to come visit him. And he’d known about this for a while and he’d been so excited, counting down the time, telling everyone in his path, like, my parents are coming tomorrow. All, you know, just very excited as children can be about things they’re excited about. And um, that it was supposed to be that day. And the day came and the day went and for one reason or another, his parents didn’t show up. And, um, this beautiful caregiver who’s in the program working with this boy knew he was devastated. And to give him a little bit of opportunity to express his feelings. She asked him, um, yeah, she asked him to show how he was feeling with the, with the little heart and he, so he was rolling up these little Brown balls and putting them in there. And what he said was, it feels like there’s pebbles in my heart. Ugh. So I think first thing, what’s hard about the work as you see stuff like that. Um, second thing is acknowledging for myself, my first reaction can be, if left, unchecked, Wow, isn’t it beautiful that this child has such a great caregiver? And wow, how incredible that he’s given these resources to express such big feelings at such a little age. And those things are true. Those are totally true things and we need to be hopeful about that. But, if you don’t pause, you miss the reality. And yeah. So I think for me it’s just been hard work of kind of, uh, tying myself to the difficulty in a way that sinks deep and broadens my perspective on what’s going on and enables me to better, um, step in with support and solutions and new structure in certain moments instead of just, uh, frantically trying to find something good to distract me from how heartbreaking that is. Um, so yeah, I think the hardest part about this work is if you are actually going to be meeting the needs of the kids that we’re wanting to, um, provide transformational change for and pathways to family. It requires every bit of you and to restructure the way that you naturally, uh, enter it into an emotional situation or otherwise. Um, yeah, so it’s, it’s costly and yeah, it’s beautiful and I think it’s some of the holiest work we can all be doing in our lives anyway, but it does, does require a lot.

[MS] So, and I mean this obviously requires so much of you. My biggest question here is, what are your dreams? What do you want to see happen, and how can you just take all of this beautiful and incredibly challenging training you’ve had the last years at AGCI to just continue to build on it and watch the programs continue to grow?

[TF] Well, I think as you’re asking about what my dreams look like, a literal vision comes to mind of the physical space of the dream home. And these are some moments that I’ve already seen of joy, of, of unity, of um, just healing happening in real time. But I think one of the main things that I’m really going to be focusing on while I’m down there is breathing TBRI® into every single thing that we’re doing at the dream home, um, where we’re not already. And so dream huge dream to me looks like our, um, great team at the dream home being some of the best advocates out there for TBRI® and how it’s transformed their lives and therefore united them as a team and they open new doors to understand our girls and um, in the difficult things that they might do sometimes that might previously have been confusing without really pausing to understand man, what’s going on in the brain physiologically because of past trauma, what’s going on, um, beneath the surface of what I’m seeing based on what might’ve just happened today. What, so I think, um, my dreams are based on the way that we’re framing our conversations this whole year based on the kind of regular, um, connections and meeting times that we’re having as a staff team and that the girls are having in more kind of connection group or Bible study context, um, that there’s a deeper sense of unity and understanding and that the, the culture of TBRI® in the home is so strong that we’re reminding each other, because none of us are perfect, right? So, but that we’re reminding each other gently and it’s received when, um, there’s a moment of, Man, you might not have meant to do that, but when you did, I, I don’t feel like we were a team. Like we weren’t sticking together in that. Just some of these simple scripts that are so helpful for young kids and adults alike. Um, success and dreams being realized looks like, um, yeah, it just looks like a thriving team working, working around TBRI® and just committed to continually, uh, applying that to every, every space of the work life and personal life moving forward.

[MS] Wow. Just for the work you’re doing… I mean with the caregivers and especially with the dream home, it, it makes me think of that Rumi [Ram Das] quote, um, We’re all just walking each other home. And I can’t imagine how it must feel to everyone you’ve come in contact with, um, and just everyone you get to work with, um, you get to walk them home. And in this case to a literal home, um, to the dream home to a place of peace and understanding and just true care for who they are as women. And I think it just so encompasses a big part of our mission and goals here at AGCI. Everyone deserves to be walked home to be invited home, to have a home, to be welcomed home. Um, and I think that is so just at the core of what you’re doing.

Thank you so much for being here today, Tati.

[TF] So fun to talk with you, Madi. Thank you so much. I’m sure, yeah, we will check in at some point soon.

[MS] That was AGCI’s Associate Program Director of Colombia, Tati Fregosi. As I said to her while we were chatting, it’s amazing how she gets to be present during their healing journey. How she gets to walk them home, in a way, back to who they really are. It’s incredible to hear these stories of change and real healing, especially now. It might be a while until Tati gets to be back with the young women of the Dream Home, but until then, what a privilege it is to witness the work of TBRI from afar.

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Thanks for listening, everyone. Stay safe.