Friday, August 9, 2013

The Stories of Many

In addition to my role as the lead on preventable diseases in this project (sounds impressive don’t it?) I also work in one of the centres to facilitate classes for teenagers raging from 9-18 years of age. So, I thought for this week I would adorn my more personal and reflective hat when talking about my experiences working with ChildFund, Niñas San Gabriel, and the rest of the team. 

For the last few weeks Ravi, Angie and I have been laying the groundwork for faciliating sessions on sexual rights and health issues.  Because sexuality and sexual practice carry a certain weight in Bolivia, we wanted to gauge how much the students already knew, and how much they were intellectually engaging in the topic area. We had a certain level of confidence in their pre-existing knowledge, as there is a fantastic piece of graffiti outside the school of a rather angry looking condom lit up in flames, with the following phrase of stoppardian wit written on the side: “Si quieres acción, usar protección” [If you want action, use protection]. Magical.

Young people participating in Sillas Caliente
Suffice it is to say the learning curve has been steep and incredibly rewarding, for us certainly, and for them I hope.  My fondest experience so far must be my most recent class. I set up an activity called Las Sillas Calientes [The Hot Seat]. In this game the group was divided in two, and one person from each group had to seat on a chair facing away from the whiteboard. The idea was, like in charades, that I would write on the board certain words and the team would have to act out the meaning of the word, and the person would have to guess the word. The first team to guess the meaning would win arbitrary points (in this case the points weren’t so arbitrary as there was a packet of frac cookies at stake… you know I don’t mess around when it comes to prizes).

Being the clever person that I am (that is to be read with a little more irony than is conveyed) I gradually introduced words that would be relevant for our topic on friendships and peer pressure. After a rousing game, ending with the smug, cookie filled, smiles of the winners, we started a discussion about what makes a good or bad friend. 
Though we started from relatively humble beginnings, the insights that the girls shared were particularly intricate and thoughtful. The teens took a hold on the discussion that followed and expertly weaved in issues concerning: responsibility, confidentiality, the finer points of what constitutes friends, personal narratives and ways to deflect terrible influences from interfering with their life. This conversation continued until we had a wonderful tapestry of experience, insight and contemplation that left me aghast.

Young people at the centre
The majority of the kids that are part of Niñas are there for some reason related to deprivation or risk, so it should be no surprise that they have certain levels of experience that I wouldn’t be able to relate to. However the way these young people were able to take personal traumas and turn them into stories of resilience and resolutions struck a particular chord with me.  At this point I am certain I am learning more from them than they are with me, but this gives me greater inspiration to engage with more difficult topics in the future to see what we can build together in my limited time here.

Written by Ross Robinson
Edited by Sarah Cassidy

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