One of the most important methods we use at this moment is the Rock and Water method1. This program was developed in the Netherlands by Freerk Ykema, and its main goal is to help guide adolescents through the complicated process of growing up. Among other things, it works on preventing aggression and sexual transgressive behavior, instead of trying to correct it afterwards. Rock and Water uses a so called psycho-physical approach, which means that themes are introduced through physical exercises, and from there the accompanying verbal and communicative skills are developed. Finally, it helps the kids develop insight, both in their own personal qualities and the responsibilities that go hand in hand with those qualities.
Recent research by the Trimbos Institute has officially made Rock and Water a scientifically proven program2,3. In the Netherlands it is subsidized by the government and used in many high schools, as well as in youth care and juvenile detention facilities. Rock and Water is also used outside of the Netherlands, since many of the problems kids have to deal with are universal. However, in that case it is of course crucial to adapt the program to fit the local circumstances, culture and values.
Adapting to circumstances
For this reason, we do not use the program exactly as it was written. As it is aimed specifically at the Netherlands and other Western countries, it is crucial to adapt it to the Bolivian culture and situation of the children. In our case, this means that the steps are much smaller and that many basic skills, that the program assumes the children already possess, will not be present. We also have to adapt to the local norms and values. Sexuality for example, an important part of the program and one that is quite easily talked about in the Netherlands, is a big taboo in Bolivia. All the exercises that deal directly with this subject are difficult to use and have to be adapted to fit into the local (macho) culture.
Because of these large cultural and developmental differences we have chosen not to use the program in its entirety, but to hand pick the exercises that best fit the situation and the developmental level of the children, and adapt others. These exercises are integrated into our existing program, and in this way we can create a very specific aid package which is completely adapted to the Bolivian culture and the situation of that moment. Of course, these choices are not made randomly, they are made by a team of certified creative therapists, drama teachers and psychologists. The therapists are all certified Rock and Water trainers, and the entire team is either Bolivian or has plenty of experience working in Cochabamba.
Aggression and body awareness
One of the biggest problems the kids in Cochabamba have to deal with is aggression; both aggression within themselves and aggression from others. For many kids this has become so normal that that they do not even notice it anymore. This is why the first step is to create awareness of their bodies and boundaries, both their own and others’. We want the kids to recognize the signals their bodies give them, for example how their bodies react to certain emotions, and to not ignore those signals. The goal is to give the kids ownership of their bodies, something that is also important when dealing with sexuality and sexual abuse.
One of the exercises we use goes as follows: we have two kids walk toward each other, and one of them has to say “stop” when he or she feels that their classmate is coming too close. When we first start with this exercise, it is clear that the kids have no idea where these boundaries are. They don’t feel anything in their bodies, not even when the other is just an inch away. But after they do the exercise a few times they are surprised to feel uncomfortable when the other person gets too close. They even start to feel when it becomes uncomfortable for the other person. Through these kinds of exercises the kids become more aware of their own bodies, which is important in all kinds of situations. For example, recognizing and becoming aware of the feeling of anger, which is often expressed through aggression and violence, is a first step in controlling the expression of that emotion, and stopping the vicious circle of violence many kids find themselves in.
The ability to say “stop” can also be used in situations of sexuality and sexual abuse, something a lot of girls unfortunately have to deal with, and to which many of them are so accustomed that saying “stop” or “no” isn’t even something they (can) consider. By becoming more aware of their bodies they will become more assertive and better able to feel what they do, but more importantly, what they do not want. In this way we can use neutral exercises to work on subjects that are more taboo, and would be difficult to address otherwise. This gives us the opportunity to take small steps to a larger goal, and teach the children skills that will help them not only in the classes, but also in real life.