A visit to Balsam

Going to Balsam and meet with Dr. Osmani, in order to:

  • Understand how does Balsam function
  • Ask about Balsam’s types and ways of serving
  • What are the fundamentals of the organization
  • Introduce my masters
  • Present to them my project
  • Share with them my proposal
  • Get her feedback
  • Ask if this is something of Balsam’s interest
  • What do they think about the process and structure
  • What are their suggestions of implementation
  • Ask if they could share their space for testing
  • Ask if cards and website could be tested with some of their clients
  • See if they would be interested to implement this project as part of their organization and facilities etc.

What tools to use:

  • Introduce myself and my masters
  • Start with interview questions
  • Show briefly my work through the presentation: by showing and explaining the three phases of the process, the activities and objective within each phase, as well as the cards tools, and the website as an idea.

Interview Questions:

How do you reach to people?

What is the message you hold?

How do you meet people? Do they come to you?

How does it start? What do you tell them?

How do you introduce Balsam’s objectives?

What is it that people ask for?

What do they suffer from?

What do you mostly focus on?

What is each volunteer’s role and context of work?

What are most reactions to the cancer / near death?

What are the conditions families live in at home?

What are the differences between before balsam and after balsam?

What becomes the relationship between the family members? 
 What do they start changing and implementing for better conditions?

What do they value out of Balsam? Is it anonymous cases?

Do families meet one another or it is just personal?

What happens when their beloved passes away?

How do they manage their loss?

Is there any family who were capable to live it in a good way and maintain stability at home?

Do they stay in touch with you?

Are the sessions for free? 
 How many times during the months? How much duration can it take?

In what other ways do you help them? Finding work? Finding friends? Encourage them to donate for cancer patients?

How do you collect money? Pay volunteers?

Main takeaways:

People know about Balsam through their doctors, WOM or google

Balsam has already worked with 600 patients and their families. It started 7 years ago and did not stop increasing since then.

The medical community is very open to it today, referrals are growing. (from 2009 till 2017)

They are mostly sustained by donations

Balsam is raising awareness on palliative care that is now recognized by the Ministry of Health and is now being integrated as a cover of life insurances, which is actually being a win-win situation for both the patient who stays comfortably at home and all costs of treatment are covered by the insurance. The insurance’s expenses reduce in comparison to normal hospitalization.

Most individuals that Balsam deals with are cancer patients. All sessions are made mostly on the phone and for free. There are some meetings that can happen either at home or at the clinic of the main appointed Doctor.

When it comes to the families of this individual, Balsam tries to guide them in their relationship and situation with their beloved, reducing their panics and letting them give space for more ease in the process, manage critical situations, and know how to take care of him/her, behave and speak in a certain manner after understanding their loved one as well as their reactions accordingly.

This in return has a positive effect on them as Doctor Osmani mentioned:

“When they start taking care of their loved one, the very sense of helping and contributing for good, automatically make them feel good about themselves and in return accept the loss.”

When the member of the family passes away, Balsam follows up with the family during a whole year. They make sure to follow social rituals, such as being present at the funeral, during the 40 days, all while maintaining contact for about 6 months on the phone. When needed, they are more present when social problems are present in a family.

Doctor Osmani has also given the example of an extreme where she showcased and elaborated on the conditions of the family and how Balsam was there to take over, support along the way, and help individuals lead through their lives.

The very goal of Balsam is normalizing death and loss.

In her opinion support groups are difficult to facilitate in Lebanon because of it is a small country and people dislike meeting others who might know them. They made several tentatives between 2 individuals proposing to one of them the support of the other and asking if they would like this sort of help to exist from a third party and most of the time this proposition was declined.

“In the US, people come to you with no shame of needing help, in Lebanon on the contrary, people want to come to help other people and not be helped themselves.”
“There was once a volunteer who went to help an aged woman in her house, but her reaction was to become an actor of resources instead of letting herself be treated well.”

From a design perspective, how can the process we are designing answering those Lebanese criterions? Meeting for a one-one or group talk/activity, need to have a goal, and this is what our workshop has proved valid and successful, because we have asked individuals from the study to come and collaborate all together on potential solutions for anyone who lives a loss, considering them the experts. So in overall, the aim was set in their minds, and they knew ahead of the time the reason why they had signed in and that they were here to create some sort of an impact. Along those lines were several activities to follow which among them was to meet, discuss briefly about oneself and situation.

The proof of success for this group conversation was that it took more time than it was scheduled specifically 45 minutes more and that was ended by the facilitator himself.

Also, in the feedback sheet respondents were asked what would they like to have more of if another meeting was set, and the majority of answers was related to the discussion they had with others. Either asking to meet new cases of people who lived a loss, or just saying how interesting, helpful and constructive such conversation could be.

In this way, design has made it ahead in its approach and in its way of engaging people, because of the genuine belief that a designer is only a facilitator and an enabler of co-creativity and innovation. 
 If we had to consider those group meetings, we need to incorporate in a way where there is involvement of each person joining in, meaning, their implication on the session is valuable, that their presence will make a difference because they are bringing their experience on the table which will add on other experiences to create a sort of a common pool of inspiration for future personal as well mutual decisions (including interests, hobbies etc.).

So by coming to these sessions, each individual plays the role of a mediator, of problem solver, since when we share our experiences with others, we are giving them a new way of looking at things and perhaps changing lives for the best and vice versa. In others words, being present in those meetings is at the same time offering help to others as well as bringing me more knowledge and understanding about myself, which will in turn, bring me more options to look into and pick out of to create my own circumstances as I need to.

In this talk we are both learners and teachers, which is why listening is the basis of all and a great skill to acquire in order to meet the others’ needs as well as mine. Also, the very basic understanding of other individuals’ values and priorities widens our perspectives and creates more empathy among people.

“It is important to give individuals a role to play, with expectations of what will be the result of their doings in relation to this meeting.”

Coming to that, we needed to ask in the feedback question of phase 2 whether individuals would feel involved in meeting others to be able to share their experience as a learning, and also, ask if cards do facilitate conversation and if there are other ways to favor these conversations.

The advantage of this process is that phases are intertwined between one another meaning that one phase cannot commence without the others that is directly linked to them. The rich experience gained in those group talks does not stop there, it is actually a step that opens the floor to another adventure, which is finding more opportunities to oneself, finding common interests with others and seek new ways of making my self more sufficient through this pool of networking which is also later on extrapolated to a greater public.

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