What have we learned from 5 months of working with children at the ISL? There are many considerations for working with children from “inner-city” communities in Jamaica and not all “intervention models” are suitable for children. It is important to document what are the successful ways that we can work with groups of children over a long period of time and establish these as model for discussing and critiquing.
We started in April one week after the first open day. We didn’t advertise. One child came and called some others and there we were a room full of children from the lane next to us. We allowed them space to play and we began to develop a after school programme that could engage them when they came. Within the first 4 weeks we noticed there would be some social dynamics we would have to deal with; there relationship to each other, how they related to us as newcomers to their community, manners discipline and respect. This was the first time we were doing this. We took a break to reflect on some of the challenges we were having and attempted to reorganize.
What we tried to do differently
- It was important to get the support of the parents. We had not met with the parents yet. One or two came around to see where there children were, said hi but there was no meeting so to speak. We didn’t know all the parents. So we prepared registration forms and asked them to take it to their parents to get a signed agreement for them to come to the ISL. We gave them a date to return the forms hoping that we would then have at least made first contact and then we could request a meeting with the parents. Some took the forms and returned with them signed, some signed them themselves saying their parents didn’t have time.
- We started to emphasize more drama classes. Of all the classes we had organized, technology, reading and drama. They responded very well to drama. We felt that drama could help us to help them work through some of the personal issues and group dynamics that seem to be affecting how they were interacting and how we were interacting with them. We also saw where we could communicate several important ideas this way. They liked the singing, dancing and acting. So we increased drama time from one days to two days and we placed focus on this as our offering for the time being.
- Ad-ziko had suggested a system where we could give them each time to come in and meet and talk or play, just spend time with somebody who was a mentor/volunteer or friend of the ISL. We had observed that some children behaved differently when they had more space to be by themselves and all of them seem to enjoy time when they could talk and share or just be in the space uninterrupted or disturbed by the other children. We soon realized that space and time was something they always had to share and this created somewhat of a dysfunction, because it seemed it was never enough. We used the other days when there was no drama to facilitate this. This was an “open day” which we hoped would allow them and us to facilitate this idea.
- On “open days” we experimented with playing music, while they worked or just hung out in the ISL. We had observed that it was difficult to keep quarrels to a minimum, when they didn’t have any activity to engage in so we played music to try to affect their mood and bring a kind of harmony within the space. This was something that they also responded well to. They would practice dance moves from drama class or sing together. They seemed to be generally more quiet or at peace when we played music. We played up-tempo music but not dancehall. Some Jazz and Micheal Jackson. Experimenting with sound was interesting because we found perhaps we could give them a feel of other energies through music from other spaces as opposed to the familiar dancehall.
What we learned after this
- Children cannot be a part of a programme by themselves if they live with a parent or guardian. They have to be instructed and mandated by the parent or guardian to attend. Their learning has to be supported in that programme. Until this is the case ISL will be a space which children will visit occasionally and we may provide them with basic forms of assistance such as homework help as requested.
- It takes a longer time to gain trust and work with children who do not have examples of respectful adult children interactions. We have to allow them to understand us in the best way they can. This can be a painful and difficult process.
- There is a psychology about family and group dynamics which we have to be aware of. While some children are more comfortable in groups, the behaviour within the group may create a false impression of who they are and what their interest is. Always make time to pay attention to this. Learn about each child that you are interacting. Even though they come as a group, they are individuals.
- We need to understand fully the impact of the most dominant influences and environment in the child’s life. The dominant example comes from home. There is what they believe is good right true or false. Allow time to learn and accept that before attempting to change that. As well as give them space to trust what we know as well as other ways of behaving.
- For children with certain kinds of limited exposure all that we represent may not feel immediately comfortable to them. They may be told that what we represent is bad for them. for example, they fear that we will take them to Africa because they were told this by someone and have come less to the ISL because of it.
- Treat them as their age not by the things that they do. Some children do interact like adults but it is important to remember that this is based on their socialization and they sill need space to be children.
- Culture and Psychology are important words to understand and they are recurring. There is a culture in the community, the lane, the yard, the house and this creates a psychology, a way of thinking acting and doing which is so consistent. Awareness of the Culture and Psychology is the beginning of being able to work out a model or a plan for engaging with the children and their community.