Roly-Poly (a play therapy session)

a Courage Homes play therapy session by Roger Seth

“Even if you get knocked down, you can get up and keep on rolling.”

This was one of the insights shared by a girl at the end of a recent play therapy session.  “What do you actually do in  your ‘Playtime With Father’ group sessions?” people have asked me.  Though not formally licensed as a Play Therapist, I constantly seek to incorporate principles and ideas from the field of creative therapies.  Read on if you’d like to see the Session Plan I drafted ahead of time, followed by an account of What Actually Happened When We Tried It!


Materials Needed:
10-12 rolls of thick packing tape (2 inch or 5 cm width), one per child
Permanent markers (to draw faces on rolls of tape)
Assorted cardboard boxes
1 large sheet of cardboard (to make a slide for the Roly-Polys)
1 Chair (to which to attach the cardboard slide)
Masking Tape or chalk (to mark start/finish lines or “battle stations”)
3 tennis balls (cricket balls)

Announce, “Today we are playing with rolls of tape! We’ll call them ‘Roly-Poly’s.’
We will use these rolls in races, games and stories.”

Give 1 roll of packing tape to each child.
Have her draw a face on the roll using permanent markers, and name it if so desired.
(If a person doesn’t like the face she’s drawn, simply peel that section off the tape, cut it off, and start over.)
After sitting in a circle, each child can introduce her “Roly-Poly” to the other children, showing what face she has drawn and telling its name.

Activity 1: Race
Have the girls line up at one end of a large room behind a “Start” line (marked with masking tape or chalk on the floor). On the count of three, have them roll their Roly- Poly away (like bowling), and see whose crosses a finish line (or reaches the far wall) first.

Do this a few times.
Be sure to announce the winner and have everyone clap for her, each time!

Activity 2: Slide
Have the children construct a long cardboard slide for the Roly-Polys to go down, using the chair as support (i.e. use masking tape to affix the wide cardboard sheet to the back of the chair at a slant). Let them take turns sending their Roly Polys on a fun trip down the slide!

Activity 3: Obstacles
Create small ramps and jumps for the Roly Polys, using cardboard and various sizes of boxes. Take turns seeing whose Roly Poly can jump highest or farthest. You could create a slightly elevated basket, and see if children can get the Roly Poly to jump over a ramp and land in the basket.

Activity 4: Survival
This is an expansion of the “Slide” activity. While 1-3 girls prepare to send their Roly-Polys down the slide, have 1-3 other girls stand to the side, near the opposite end of the room. These will be the “Bad Guys,” armed with 1 tennis ball each. As the Roly-Polys come down the slide and across the room, the Bad Guys can throw their tennis ball to try to knock a Roly-Poly onto its side. If the Roly-Poly reaches the opposite end of the room unharmed, it wins; if the Bad Guy succeeds in knocking out the Roly-Poly, she wins.

Activity 5: Battle
Mark out a circular battlefield by placing small strips of Masking Tape around a perimeter, which will form starting lines for various Roly-Poly’s to enter the fray. Have each child take up her own position around the circle, behind a starting line. On the count of three, everyone should roll their Roly-Poly towards the center, with the goal of knocking over another Roly-Poly. Any Roly-Poly which falls over on its side is “out.” Those that remain upright are “in” to go back to their starting position to do a second (or third or fourth, etc) battle. Continue eliminating Roly-Polys until one is the winner.

Alternate: After initial battle, leave the Roly-Polys wherever they end up within the circle. Then let players take a turn, one at a time, to try to knock over another Roly Poly from wherever their Roly Poly is currently located. (You might try using a rectangular playing space for this version.)

Activity 6: Stories
Sit as a group in a circle. Select one Roly-Poly and begin telling a story about him/her. Then pass it to the next person around the circle, so they can add onto the story. Perhaps the story will include obstacles or challenges he faced (using some of the previous activity situations or props as ideas for the story). Children may introduce additional characters using other Roly-Polys.

Alternates: Have each person peel their Roly-Poly’s face off that section of tape and stick it to a paper. They can then draw pictures around the face or write a new story. Or create one big poster with each of the children’s Roly-Poly faces stuck to the paper. As a group, fill in shapes around the faces and add to the background. The poster can be a reminder of the Play Therapy session.

Invite the children to share what lessons the Roly Polys (and/or the games) can teach us.


The girls really liked the Roly-Polys. Most gave their Roly-Poly a pretend name, though a few used their own names. The games that had a “racing” theme were a big hit. We did the session on our outdoor terrace, which had some bumps between tiles, and the irregularity caused some of the Roly-Polys to veer off in surprising directions, which made the races both more fun and funnier.

We never did Activity 3 (Obstacles), for two reasons: First, I found it a bit difficult to explain to the girls what kind of ramps and jumps to make, and it seemed too distracting to stop and create those at that point. Perhaps in a future session, I would make some ahead-of-time, so that the group can just keep on playing. Second, the girls had so much fun with Activity 2 (Slide) that they didn’t really want to stop. When I added the element of Activity 4 (Survival) with the “Bad Guys” who could throw a ball to try to knock over the Roly-Polys as they came down the slide, this became the most fun activity of all. EVERYONE wanted to take turns throwing the balls, and whenever a Roly-Poly got hit and fell over, we made a big deal out of it. (i.e. I shouted out in a voice like a boxing referee, “Ohhh—smash hit!” or “Ouch—that was a real knock-out!”). I made sure the Bad Guys were standing far enough to the side that it wasn’t that easy for them to knock the Roly-Polys over.

Activity 4 (Survival) naturally led to the next Activity 5 (Battle). Since we switched the movement from one end of the room to the other, and now were in a circle, it took some time for girls to figure out what was happening. Some wanted to start from the very same “battle-station,” so I had to force some to choose a different point from around the circle. By the time we played one round of it, though, they had gotten the hang of it. I had anticipated that most girls would try to get their Roly-Poly to collide with another’s, but instead most tried to roll theirs slightly to AVOID hitting another’s (perhaps to survive). I wondered if it had been a boy’s group, they would have sought collisions more!

When we finally sat in a circle to do Activity 6 (Stories), I took the first turn, as many girls in our group were new and had not previously experienced Group Storytelling. “One day Smiley (the Roly-Poly’s name) went for a spin. She came to a tall mountain (I pointed at the cardboard slide we’d created). ‘I’d like to climb that mountain,’ she said to herself, ‘but I’m not sure I can actually get to the top…’” Then I passed the tape to the next girl.

As the tape traveled around the circle, it wasn’t long before Smiley the Roly-Poly had met a young man and become friends. When she took him home to meet her parents, her mother screamed and yelled at her. Much of the story then revolved around how Smiley tried to make peace with her mother, even after she and the young man got married and moved to a house of their own, against the mother’s wishes.

It turns out that many girls around the circle have verbally abusive, angry mothers, and whenever they talk to them on the phone or meet them in court, it causes them a huge amount of stress.

During our Debrief, we asked girls what lessons we can learn from the Roly-Polys. A common theme that emerged was, “Even if you get knocked down, you can get up and keep on rolling.”

Making Jewelry

Yesterday we had a training time in jewelry making.  Our girls are learning to make earrings to sell to start a savings account for their future.  We have a lovely Japanese friend who has volunteered her time and experience to us.  She is teaching our girls and staff to make some quality products.  We even have real pearls and Swarovski crystals.  Yesterday we made pearl earrings.  To see the smiles on their faces when they create something is priceless.

Almost Full

The house is almost completely full!!!  This is the third time since we opened that we have had 11 girls.  Our limit is 12.  The lunch table is full.  The classroom is full.  The beds are almost full.  We are very thankful for each girl that has come to Courage Homes and the opportunity we have to work with them.  The more the merrier!


We celebrated the holiday Eid together two weeks ago.  This is a fun day for the girls to make special treats and dress in fancy clothes.  We played games, danced, and did fun art projects together instead of our regular school activities.  The girls especially like to dress up in their pretty clothes and have their pictures taken.  We talked about what Eid is for those who didn’t know.  And we had a wonderful time just laughing and dancing and being kids.


By Roger Seth


After our team received an excellent day of training in Trauma Counseling by a woman who has 20+ years’ experience helping sexual abuse survivors to heal, I was inspired to implement some of the practical lessons learnt.  Our trainer had spoken of “grounding” techniques, which help a person to shift their focus from troubling emotions (such as recollections of past abuse) onto the present moment.  She also introduced the idea of “anchors:” pictures or objects (such as a Teddy Bear) which can help a traumatized child stay connected to a feeling of safety.


The focus on “grounding” and “anchors” guided me as I planed my subsequent monthly Play Therapy session with the girls.  “Grounding” can involve paying attention to physical sensations, so I created a session I called “Touchy-Feely.”


From home, I gathered many small objects which represented a variety of textures:  an orange, an apple, a doll, sand paper, a smooth stone, Velcro, a leaf, etc.  These went into a cloth bag so they couldn’t be seen.   This bag formed the primary prop I needed for the session with the girls, which consisted of four rounds.


In Round 1, a girl would reach into the bag, touch an object and, without looking, guess what it was.  She’d then pull the object out of the bag so that everyone could see if she’d guessed correctly or not.  Then the next person in the circle would take a turn.  By the end of the round, all thirty objects were out of the bag, in plain view of the girls and staff who were sitting in a circle.


For Round 2, I asked each person to choose 2 objects and place them in the bag, so that everyone saw what went in.  When it was her turn, a girl would reach in to grab an object (again without looking), and then say, “When I touch this object, I think of ____.”  The group would then try to guess which object she had selected.  Answers ranged from literal to abstract.  One girl said, “When I touch this object, I think of a round, red sweet fruit [apple].”  Another girl said, “When I touch this object, I think of running anywhere I want [stuffed animal mouse].”


To begin Round 3, I invited each girl to look at all the objects laid out before us.  “Now we’re going to talk about a negative feeling,” I explained.  “We can choose fear, anger or sadness…which would you like to select?”  The girls together decided on “sadness.”  I instructed them to pick up an object which, when they either held it or looked at it, made them feel sad.


Some of their answers were very revealing.  One girl said, “When I hold this flashlight, I feel sad, because the batteries will eventually run out.”  One girl, who had previously held back from taking part in group sessions, now spoke up, crying:  “When I hold this book, I feel sad because, before coming to the Courage Homes, I never held a book in my life!”


Round 4 was about a positive emotion, and the girls decided to focus on “peace.”  Remembering the idea of “anchors” from the recent Trauma Counseling training, I gave them each a piece of paper.  “Draw a picture of any object or place which, when you look at it or think of it, makes you feel peaceful,” I said.  “You can copy the shape of any of the objects that were in the bag, or you can choose another object which isn’t here.”


Suddenly, the group session became stressful for the girl who had just shared about the book.  “I can’t draw!” she fretted.  One of our team members immediately said, “That’s ok.  Why don’t you think of an object and tell me what it is, and I’ll try to draw it for you?”  That seemed to calm her down.


Many pictures emerged:  A garden, trees, a lake, a teddy bear, a remembered pet, “God.”  As the session closed, I told the girls, “Keep your picture with you, and next time you feel troubled, look at the picture and let it remind you that it’s possible to feel peaceful.”  Thus it was that throughout the session we had played around with tactile aspects of “grounding,” and we ended with each girl taking her own “anchor” with her.

Food Bazaar

The girls had a special week of no school last week.  They went to the park, played games, made crafts, and held a food bazaar.  Each girl made a dish of food and then set up a stall to sell it in Courage Homes.  This was only for the staff and girls at Courage Homes, but it was a huge success.  We used pretend money but ate real food!

The purpose of the event was not only for pure enjoyment but we used it as a way to empower the girls in marketing skills and life skills.  They made up posters to advertise their item and chose the price.  Most of them were very proud of what they made.  One girl however was unsure of her dish and cried because she thought it wouldn’t taste good.  It was wonderful to see not only the staff but the other girls encouraging her that she did a good job and that it tasted good.  And it did!


Fun Time With Father

by Roger Seth


For the first session of “Fun Time with Father,” I dumped an assortment of stuffed animals and photographs cut from magazines on the floor, with the girls seated in a circle.  I drew a large “+” sign on a paper, which I placed to one side.  We would go around the circle, taking turns.  Each girl was to select one object or picture from the middle, hold it up so all could see, and then say, “I like this [photo or animal] because….”

Once we had done that, I placed a large “-“ sign on the opposite side of the circle, and again we went around, each person selecting a new object and declaring, “I don’t like this [object] because….”

Next we removed all the unselected photos and animals from the middle.  We then began a collaborative story.  I started by picking up one of the animals, giving it a name, and saying a few sentences.  I handed the animal to the next person in the circle, who was to choose one of the available pictures or objects and incorporate that into the story.  We went around once, then a second time, and after the last person had completed the story, we all clapped for one another.

It amazed me how much I could see personality differences in the girls through how they participated.  Some of the story segments were goofy, and we giggled.  Some girls took delight in adding an unexpected plot twist, to create a dilemma for the next person to solve.  Others had a hard time thinking of anything to say, so they asked one of our colleagues to help.  Others made sure to choose the object they had already named as their favorite, to put it into the story in the way they desired.

The girls seemed to like making up the story together, and asked if we could do it all over again.  So we got out all the photos and animals that hadn’t been selected in the first place, and used those to tell a second story.

My colleagues later told me that one of the girls began to speak aloud in the group session for the first time.  Previously, she had been too shy or too tongue-tied to share.  The props served as prompts to give ideas, which made the task easier.

Another girl, who is from a faraway region, struggled to communicate in Hindi, but we could all tell that she had definite ideas, and one of our team members who speak her mother tongue translated her contribution into Hindi as she created it.  All in all, we had the satisfaction of working as a group and producing something different than any of us would have made on our own.  No one lost; we all won together.

A few weeks later, one of the girls asked our teacher, “When will Father do another session?”

“Did you like it?” my colleague asked.

“Oh, yes.  Here at Courage Homes we’re always being reminded of the prostitution that occurred, as the police come and ask questions about it, or we have to go to court and talk about it, or in Life Skills we are warned about it, or we have counseling sessions to recover from it.  I get so tired of thinking about such a heavy subject.  Father’s session was a relief, because we didn’t talk about anything important, but we had fun together.”

Indeed, that may be one of the best gifts any parent could give their child:  Just the simple pleasure of hanging out together, being silly and making up something together.    Since then, I have led a second session (which included sketching pictures out of funny squiggles and collaborative drawing).  Now that I can see that this low-key “Time with Father” contributes to the overall balance of life at Courage Homes, I’m inspired to create more sessions for the girls.

Women Harming Women

By Roger Seth

We all know that the vast majority of people vulnerable to human trafficking are women and children. It is also clear that it is men who drive the demand for sex trafficking. In the outcry following the horrific rape on 16 December, 2012 in Delhi, multiple newspaper articles appeared, decrying patriarchy as a primary cause of sexual violence against women.

All of this makes sense. Certainly, the world has seen far too much of men dominating women.

Another tragic factor, however, is the role of women in trafficking.
Women enabling the rape of other women is one of the dark secrets which, counter-intuitive though it may be, is a reality we must face.

This past week, as I reviewed cases of girls sent to Courage Homes, a disturbing pattern emerged: Many girls were deliberately thrust into the hands of abusers by women.

There’s the neighborhood “auntie” who lived next door to one girl, who invited her to go shopping in the nearby bazaar. She, along with another woman, got in the backseat of a car with the girl. When they reached the market, the two older women told the teenager, “Just wait here while we pop into that store across the street. We’ll be back in a minute.” No sooner had the women gotten out, then the driver sped off, delivering the girl to the traffickers.

The women’s role was premeditated, not accidental. They sent their neighbour’s daughter into a living hell. On purpose.

Another girl, lured halfway across town by a charming young man, was taken to the home of a middle-age woman in a side-street just behind a bustling row of shops close to where I used to live. This woman presided over a cluster of men who took turns raping the girl. Then, when the girl tried to escape, the woman gave her a heavy beating.

Or what about the case, spotlighted in the newspaper recently, in which a minor girl from a slum repeatedly refused the sexual advances of a man in his mid-twenties? One day the man and his sister accosted the girl on the road. His sister forced the girl to the ground and held her down while the man poured acid all over her face. Apparently, this sister felt it was an appropriate price for the younger girl to pay for not allowing her brother to have his way.

And what of the many mothers, who conveniently look the other way while their beloved sons stalk young women, make numerous trips to brothels, or take advantage of girls in the neighborhood?

You’d think it’s an oxymoron: Women enabling men to be predatory toward women. But it happens in many, many cases.

Some situations I can wrap my mind around, such as the battered wife who, already bludgeoned in her spirit, does nothing to protect her daughter from sexual abuse at the hands of her husband. Though her inaction is inexcusable, it’s at least understandable as a predictable outcome of her extreme disempowerment. It is a welcome surprise when we see such a woman take a stand, such as separating from the husband or reporting to the police—and we have, indeed witnessed such surprises, though they are rare.

But the women who intentionally exert power over vulnerable girls, stealing their childhoods, profiting from their trauma, exploiting their futures, enabling the sexual assaults on their souls…this is grievous, reprehensible, possessing a unique evil of its own.

Trafficking is not solely a problem driven by men, vile as their actions are.

Amongst all the other horrors, it includes this unspeakably ugly picture: Women who simultaneously benefit from, while fueling (and thereby expanding), the systematic exploitation of other women.

Perhaps this is yet one more reason why it should really be called “inhuman trafficking.”


Today we celebrated India’s Independence Day (a day early). The girls did skits, sang songs, had a debate, read a poem, and danced. The staff also performed a skit for the girls. The theme was Freedom. The girls did an amazing job of performing different aspects of freedom. Several times I had to hold back tears as I thought about the different perspectives of what they were saying.

One skit the girls did showed a person who was not free and then how they became free. This was especially moving. They had a child bride, a child who was a domestic servant, a sex trafficking victim, and an illiterate girl. Then a person came and helped them to receive freedom It was very emotional to watch them act out situations that some of them have found themselves in and to realize how important freedom really is.

They ended with a dance that they choreographed. It spoke about being such a small, insignificant person and yet someone came to free them. To me this was so touching because they really could sing the songs as if they had written the words themselves.

I am a flower quickly fading,
Here today and gone tomorrow.
A wave tossed in the ocean.
A vapor in the wind.
Still You hear me when I’m calling.
You catch me when I’m falling.
And You’ve told me who I am.
I am Yours.

Freedom takes on new meaning for me today because of these girls.

LOVE and Nothing Else

From our Social Worker

A policeman came today to meet a girl who was recently rescued from prostitution. I was there during the time of information gathering. It was all amusing initially when the girl was being cocky and the policeman had a hard time understanding the girl. She was a smart girl who knew exactly what she was doing. She did not give out information so easily. She said “Police walo ko tight kar dungi”. I really don’t know how to interpret that but it was fun watching the girl lead the policeman into some confusion.

While the girl played her game with the policeman, I couldn’t stop seeing the person the girl had become due to the exploitation she went through. She could have been a 16 year old starry eyed girl with dreams, who was leading a normal, rebellious teenage life. But, that was far from who she was. She had become a woman who was frustrated and had no hope. She had become harsh and loud to suppress her pain. I could see that she was hurting so much. But, her pretense was even more obvious.

At the end, she broke down. She wept and wept and I hugged her. She held me and wept and said she wanted to die. She said there was nothing left to live for. My heart sank. Love was all I could give her at that moment. She was hurting and pain was all she felt. Love was all she needed. “Love never fails”

There are many things in this place that I work at-Trauma Counselling, Life Skills, More Counselling and many more activities for girls like her. But, if there is no Love, they are nothing, they are just noise.

I am nothing and empty without Love. This may be all I can give her but this is the greatest of all. It is so easy to do things the right way and forget why we are here for. I do forget that sometimes, I confess. But, God is so good to keep reminding me of what is important and why have He sent me to this place.

It is all for Love.

Love is the power the world does not have. Love is what will remain when all else is gone. It is eternal. We are loved with an everlasting Love.

Page 1 of 41234»