Olivia Shaw
Olivia Shaw
South Africa, 2021
My name is Olivia Shaw and on January 13, 2021, I will be hopping on a plane to Cape Town, South Africa to begin work in Woodstock at a group home for immigrant and refugee children. I will be living in Cape Town for about six months and am so excited to see how my work will develop in my time there! Read More About Olivia →

Gratitude for Take Away, Please!

Gratitude for Take Away, Please!

Something I am recently increasingly grateful for! This wall above my desk has slowly accumulated more pieces of art from the children of Lawrence House. Most recently, letters from friends from home have been added to the wall. It’s the first thing I see in my room when I walk in and it is such a sweet reminder of the people in my life and how blessed I am!


Even living in a city that makes life feel like vacation almost everyday, I am not immune to burnout or long days or hard days. I believe that transparency is the key to the work that I do, and am doing, especially here. One of the aunties at work shared with me that when she is having hard days, she is transparent to the children and tells them that she is not in a good space that day. Being transparent with our residents allows the opportunity for the children to practice extending grace to us adults when we need it most. She also reinforced the truth that is this: children can tell when adults are authentic and when they are pretending. She believed that by lying to the children and not being honest, they could tell that we weren’t being our authentic selves with them- so how could they trust us? I also believe that in order to reinforce that the children have permission to express their hard emotions like sadness, anger, and disappointment, we must be vulnerable enough to experience these emotions around them in a healthy way. By modeling how to manage emotions that the children may struggle with, it is the hope that through life space intervention, they will learn how to manage these emotions themselves.


Please hear that I love the work that I do, but there are days that I was exhausted and felt like I couldn’t muster the energy to bear the responsibility of supervising twenty-five children. With any job, but especially social work, there are days or weeks when it is hard or slow or heavy… Or all of the above, at once. It was in these seasons that I was reminded that I must bring myself back to a space of gratitude. Call this reminder Jesus during Lenten season or call it Brene Brown from across the ocean, but I knew that I needed to develop a practice to help make me present to my environment and also grateful for the opportunity I had.


I believe that from gratitude, it is easier to practice other positive habits such as mindfulness, respect, patience, and active listening. I believe that the same can come from when we are aware of our space and grateful for it, so I developed an exercise that combines a therapeutic grounding exercise and the daily mindful practice of gratitude journaling. In the past, I have found that both (grounding exercises and gratitude practices) are useful, but my gratitude journals became redundant and my grounding exercises were becoming dull and meaningless, rather than orientating to the space I was residing in. The practice was not respectful of myself or the space I was taking up.


Here is an example of a gratitude journal: 

Today I am grateful for ________.


Here is what the grounding through the senses exercises looks like: 

Become aware of-

5 things you can see

4 things you can feel

3 things you can hear

2 things you can smell

1 thing you can taste 


What I developed marries the recognition of a person’s environment to promote orientation of person and place while reinforcing gratitude and overall positive, mindful perspective to what the person is becoming aware of in their environment. Here is Grounding the Senses through Gratitude, a practice:

  • Observe five things you can see around you that you are grateful for.
  • Be present to four things you can feel around you that you are grateful for.
  • Become aware of three things you can hear around you that you are grateful for.
  • Breathe deep. What are two things you can smell (or you wish you could smell if it isn’t supper time) that you are grateful for?
  • Relax your shoulders. Unclench your jaw. What is one thing you can taste that you are grateful for? 


This exercise can be completed in its entirety in one sitting or an individual could focus on one item each day (one thing to smell everyday until it reaches ___ days) which could be a consistent practice of gratitude for 15 days, or an individual could target one sense per day for a gratitude practice for 5 days. As one of the uncles told me here, find your chocolate cake recipe. The exercise lends itself to being used in so many different ways, one must just try it and tweak as needed. I enjoy completing this exercise every so often. It’s winter in Cape Town, and I find myself no longer as grateful for the wonderful pool at Lawrence House as I once was- however I am increasingly more grateful for the long warm hugs I receive from the children as time passes and our bonds become stronger.


As I’ve said before, I wear hats and take on roles of jobs I feel completely under qualified and unprepared for, and I complete tasks that I feel immensely overqualified for. I weave bracelets. I carry around a water bottle with stickers. Some days I am a tutor, and every day I am the teacher of a small classroom. I plan programs for the children and sometimes we talk about God. Sometimes, we have ultra mega dance parties and I learn more about African culture in these hours than I ever did reading a history book. Some days I’m a music teacher, others I’m a gentle hug or listening ear. Some days I have the energy of the 8 year olds around me, some days I’m absolutely exhausted, but every day I’m grateful for the opportunity to be where I am. This exercise has aided in promoting a positive perspective on the hard days and reinforcing truths I already know, such as that I love the work that I do and that I’m infinitely grateful for this experience. 

In your corner,

One thought on “Gratitude for Take Away, Please!”

  1. “I’m humbled and grateful.” It’s been a while that I have wondered myself why I am reluctant to share my thoughts and my opinion about the recent Covid-19 pandemic. So, perhaps one idea you can use is to write a gratitude letter.

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