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High up on one of Hawaii's extinct volcanic cones, Reuben Lelah has created a refuge where chronically or terminally ill children and adolescents can experience more than just vital psychotherapeutic treatment. Its story is likely to be unique.

While people are sweating down in the city of Kona, here - at 1,645 meters above sea level - the traffic mirror opposite the exit is still foggy, although it will soon be noon. The street itself is lined with tall, light blue hydrangea bushes. If you go through the wide, cast-iron entrance gate, you will be greeted with giant angel trumpets and their bewitching scent. Everything here breathes generosity.

The Reuben Lelah Foundation, the owner of this vast area, is a man who also seems to smile when he brings up very serious issues. When asked what is special about his interior, he replies after a moment: "Your beauty!" Then the psychotherapist explains why it is important to him. “Children have a clear sense of beauty. Why should only people who can afford it enjoy it? "

Everything that Lelah had inherited and owned before has flowed into this facility, which has been a charitable foundation since 2005 under the name "Loving Service Foundation". "Personally, I don't own anything here anymore," he says. “I've always been indifferent to fame or fortune. But I had the urge early on to create such a place and to make sure that it was beautiful. "

In retrospect, Lelah can only marvel at all of this. Especially against the background of his own biography and family history. "My grandparents were Jews from Baghdad," he says. "My father's parents emigrated to Singapore, where my father was born." Shortly before the Japanese invasion in World War II, the family managed to get out of Singapore in time. “With the penultimate ship that left port. My father was only 13 years old then. "

The mother's parents, on the other hand, ended up in Bombay via Calcutta, which is home to a large Jewish community. "There my parents met in a synagogue and emigrated to Israel after their wedding, where I was born in 1951." But life in the Jewish state was hard and full of dangers at the time. “At some point my mother couldn't take it anymore,” Lelah says. When he was almost three years old, his parents packed his bags and emigrated with him to Great Britain. "Both had British passports - after all, Singapore and India belonged to the Empire." At the age of nine, they went on to the United States, to Oregon.

Origin and constant change of location meant that Lelah's parents communicated with each other in seven different languages. “It was a breathtaking change at times. But very likely it all helped me to work in a place like Hawaii. ”But before that, he did research in the United Kingdom and the United States on what is called“ progressive education, ”and worked for Physicians for Social Responsibility for a year , an anti-nuclear initiative founded by Australian pediatrician Helen Caldicott.

"Then I decided to specialize in the psychotherapeutic treatment of chronically or terminally ill children and adolescents." This happened at the elite Harvard University. “It was a great experience. As a result, when I later worked in children's hospitals, I felt important as a drug lord. The only thing missing was the gold chains, ”Lelah recalls with a laugh. “Of course, drugs help with illness. But only if you don't know anything else. "And after some thought, he adds:" I doubt that it didn't feel better because I lived near the institutes, where the ambulance sirens wailed day and night and the rescue helicopters overflowed circled one - it was like being in a war zone. "

Land One day his mentor suggested he settle in Hawaii. “This place would hardly have crossed my mind, but I ended up here on this island in 1995.” And just a month later he opened a practice in the city of Kona. It shouldn't be the last. “When my neighbor had water damage and I found my computer and papers in the water that morning, I moved. In the next practice there were rats that the landlord couldn't control, and the third practice was between an FBI office and a tax authority. "What nobody recognizes at first glance:" Hawaii is a third world country , albeit with first world prices. "

In 2003 he finally bought this property above the city. Commercial uses were always there
but inadmissible. “I remember tears welling up in my eyes then. The meeting room in the parish council was so full that it was difficult to stand. Contrary to all the rules, the planning commission gave me the exemption for my practice, unanimously! «

Helping seriously ill children and adolescents, especially those from socially disadvantaged backgrounds, is what Lelah sees as his life's work. In some cases, multidisciplinary accompanying treatment is required in addition to psychotherapy. "If a family cannot raise the funds, the foundation makes it available."

Often his patients are descendants of the indigenous people. While Hawaii is always portrayed as a typical South Seas paradise, the reality is very different: Ten percent of the population are of indigenous origin and are often among the poorest. The land, which is said to belong only to the gods, was appropriated by European or American landowners in the 19th century.

Descendants of migrant workers from Japan, China, the Philippines and numerous Europeans sought their fortune in Hawaii. They toiled on one of the huge sugar cane plantations for a few years and then settled down. Their descendants now make up around 90 percent of the population. Lelah's facility currently houses children from 13 different cultures. "How can you always find the right words there?"

The facility is almost 10,000 square meters. Discharging patients straight back into their old milieu after therapy is counterproductive. Therefore, everything is designed in such a way that there is space for entire families. “I grow vegetables with the children in the greenhouses and we cook together. Many of them have never had a hot meal. ”The waste is then put into a composter that Lelah built together with a ten-year-old with autism. "The boy was then able to create the second composter on his own." He adds thoughtfully: "You should never underestimate what that means for a child's self-confidence in the long term."

Music Work is still in progress on a building in which treatments with music and sounds will take place, the so-called cathedral. But already today there is a noble concert grand donated by a renowned musical instrument manufacturer.

Full of enthusiasm, Lelah leads through the three rooms that are supposed to lead off from the central music therapy room. One of them will one day serve as a library for the children. A second is intended as a prayer room for members of the various religious groups to commemorate the deceased children. The third is intended for physiotherapy treatments - such as osteopathy, craniosacral therapy, and massage. When the weather is clear, you can look down on the city and the sea through a huge picture window. The wonder of the expanse can be felt directly here, even in the shell.

As he walks through the almost park-like garden - after all, over 550 rose bushes, 40 types of bamboo and countless other plants were planted there on the originally hard volcanic ground - Lelah explains the methods on which his therapies are based. "On the one hand, my treatments are based on what I was taught in my academic training." What I mean is talk therapy or psychoanalytic play therapy. "But my focus is more on the approaches that I have learned through my occupation with Hinduism, Buddhism, Kabbalah as well as Islam and many other wisdom teachings."

The old Hawaiian doctrine of Ho’oponopono, which means something like "bring order", plays a special role. According to this, all people live in a kind of association, the ohana. This includes not only living and dead relatives, but also animals and plants, stones, seas and volcanoes - actually everything that you have ever heard of or felt with your senses. "Any action taken by a member of the ohana affects all other members of the association," explains Lelah.

His gaze wanders through the garden. “It's an old way of describing a very modern thing. That is pure quantum physics. «And after a short pause he adds:» This approach in therapy is about learning to help and starting to be loving, caring and respectful and, above all, to strengthen the connection to one's own soul. Only then can young people find their place in the community, which in turn has an impact on the entire community. "

Lelah reports that he designed every detail on the site himself. He worked with specialists for a long time, especially on the sound of the waterfalls. “The design of the cathedral is still a mystery to me. For example, why the windows are the way they are. But everyone who comes here is touched, even though everything is still a construction site. "

“From the outside, it looks to some people as if I don't have a life of my own. Yet there are many ways of living your own life. For me it feels like a privilege, like an honor, that I can do what I'm doing here. ”And it's done with passion. “I hear it often from parents. But when children tell me that if they want to go to a peaceful place inside, they always remember that place, then it means a lot to me. "