“His tiny face was full of big dark eyes that hinted at sadness and were permanently guarded. His small frame looked fragile …” *
*extract from Transforming Lives –Introduction blog post
Joshua is fourteen years old, this I now know. I really would have said nine or ten. This is typical of how misleading the children’s physical size and looks can be. Malnutrition, substance abuse, emotional trauma; they all leave their marks on the physical form.
Joshua returned to Amani, tired, dusty and sullen. For the next few weeks I would often find him sat against a wall, alone – just staring at the ground. At meal times he would sit with Elisante, they stayed together as friends joined, with me, by their newness. His interaction with the other kids was sporadic and that awesome smile less frequent, it rarely reached his big dark eyes.
I returned to Amani determined to rise to the challenge and try to help and understand these complex kids that both society and family had abandoned. I quickly found myself in the crazy world of real life at Amani. Orientation over, it was time for work, time to have Maktaba classes (library classes where my role is to stimulate interest and assist in the reading of Swahili books) and English Club sessions. Maybe in those early weeks you would also find me sat against a wall, alone – just staring into space! I remember I was in bed by nine most evenings!
Joshua and Gill; feeling their way nervously through the hallways and classrooms of Amani.
The Starters class is where all children are placed when they first arrive at Amani. Therefore this was where Joshua was. The children undergo educational, health and background evaluation. The Social Worker assigned to each child will attempt to gain their trust and learn the details of their background and home life. This is where the reunification programme is first evaluated for each individual child.
There are also three classes of children following the an informal Amani devised education programme designed to bring the kids up to standard 7 – Graduation level.
The Starter class was too big (23 kids at that time) to have in one group, the library doesn’t have room for that number! We split them into four groups using the teacher’s own classifications by educational ability. So in theory I was to run one Library and one English Club session for each of the seven groups IE: fourteen class spots. In reality there were seven workable class spots in the timetable allocated to me. Clearly lessons had to be dropped and the timetable shuffled. We agreed Starters should only have one Library class session a week.
I introduced group names within Starters, to try to create a team atmosphere. By now I had learned that you cannot ask a street kid open-ended questions like:
“What would you like the group to be called?”
You need to give them choices. I based those choices around the wonderful stickers sent to me by many friends, when I posted on Facebook, how much these simple things meant to the kids. I remember distinctly that Joshua was very vocal about his group’s choice. He wanted to be called Tembo (Elephants) and not surprisingly his vote won!
From those early days back in September right through to his reunification just two weeks ago Joshua would greet me with “Hey Gill, Tembo.” I already miss that, but with a smile of satisfaction.
I will not paint a saintly picture of me nor the kids; this is a real life story. Just think Sound of Music and the tricks the kids played on Julie Andrews at the start! I strive for her level of rapport and success (with the kids)!
It took me two or three weeks to properly suss out their game.
Each child in lesson one had to write his or her name on a card that would serve to prompt my aging memory and at this time half blind senses. Each week I would stand at the door with the name cards and try to correctly identify the child. I would be wrong on every single count except Joshua.
You guessed it.
They were deceiving me and taking on a different identity each week, and not even from the same group! No wonder I was confused.
Once sussed, I countered simply. I announced that name cards would also become a sticker chart and I would award stickers for good behaviour, effort etc. No one wanted their efforts rewarded on the wrong card! Now they turned up correctly and self disciplined anyone who tried to gate crash their group.
The motivation powers of a simple sticker here is amazing.
Life settled and my Starter groups became fun and each group grasped their team identity with varying levels of fervour.
Elephants and Dragons became very strong teams and possessive over membership and group results.
Pirates, the non-readers and writers my most challenging.
I will never forget that smile and those eyes.
For Joshua and all the children at Amani. Xxx