Thursday, November 13, 2014

Some Thoughts and Reflexions on the Childhood and Youth Empowerment Project

As a recurring theme in the blog posts of these past weeks, you’ll find the astonishment of how quickly time is passing by. One month and one week in, and everyone will agree that time has flown, while simultaneously starting to feel a bit at “home”.

Being part of the Childhood and Youth Empowerment team has been, so far, an incredible experience. In spite of being really different people, with different personalities and backgrounds, we’ve all managed to create an effective working environment, culminating in the beautiful photographic exhibition on the 26th of October, as well as establishing deep links which, I believe, might result in long lasting and meaningful friendships. We’re all bound by the same passion for what we are doing, and gradually learn new skills from each other.

As part of my job within the Childhood and Youth Empowerment team, I work predominantly in two kids centres, located in Villa Copacabana and Villa Fatima. In spite of being part of the same ChildFund project (which has over 30 centres in La Paz), these two centres are really different from each other. While Villa Copa looks like any other kids’ centre or colourful school, Villa Fatima is situated a bit further away from the centre in what is called “the periferica” (the periphery); you need to throw a tiny rock at the window of the second floor - where the classroom is - since there is no doorbell, and the absence of toilets offers only two outcomes: either going outside (unattractive solution, especially over the winter) or having a couple of squirming kids during the session. The kids themselves are adorable, but the gap between the centres strikes me again. In Villa Copa, they all look very modern, with their phones, whatsapps, new shoes and gossip about boys (many of them are girls in the older classes), while Villa Fatima’s kids seem less technology-oriented – probably because of a gap in means; they are more into arts and crafts and carry an undivided affection for their educator.

Regardless of the difference between the centres, the activities we organise are mainly focused on No Violence and Child Rights within the community, for which we develop various workshops depending on the age range (which anecdotally led some of us to effectively transform into frogs for one session). The topics of violence and insecurity are sometimes, and for obvious reasons, difficult to tackle, since many of the children find in the centres a safe place away from that reality. A reality where violence is many times normalised; in a community context where alcoholism and abuse are ordinary, and even “Home” is not always considered as a safe place. For this reason we developed activities that will make them reflect on violence, such as “The Fist Experience”. We asked the kids to get into pairs, and asked one child from each pair to make a fist using their hand. The other is instructed to open it. They all use physical force to try to open the fist instead of simply asking (except for this one kid: “I tickled him! I tickled him and he opened his hand!”). A general reflection on violence and how easy it is to resort to it, even to a minimal extent. To be fair now, it is extremely likely that most kids, and adults for that matter, would react in a similar way to such an exercise, no matter the country, neighbourhood or social status.

We think and talk a lot about the impact we want to have – yet don’t have substantial instruments to measure that impact. Hopefully, International Service will develop such instruments - or efficiency mechanisms, for example a formal base line -which will focus primarily on the improvements made by the volunteers and the partner organisation in different communities, regardless of the project.

As far as the impact goes for the Childhood and Youth Empowerment project, the little amount of time we are given per cohort is rather limited, which makes it quite impossible to actually see any drastic, visible, tangible change for the kids. While it can be frustrating at times, this is perhaps the best moment in life to focus on the small things on the one hand, and think of the global picture on the other. The global picture here is represented by the stability of the programme, the long-lasting relation with the partner organisation (ChildFund has been in Bolivia for over 20 years), the educators - who are a complete support for us - and the security that this is neither the beginning nor the end, but rather the continuation of a greater involvement with different communities of La Paz.

At a personal level then – on appreciating the small things - I will borrow Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s words: “Real miracles make little noise! Essential events are so simple… A smile is often the essential”. The smiles we give, the smiles we get, that warmth of heart. You find small rewards when some kids are genuinely happy to see you arrive at the centre, or when you quietly observe that little spark of pride the girls had in their eyes when leading their families to the picture they had taken at the photo exhibition.

Written by Penélope Terranova

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