At the moment we have several on-going projects, within which we work closely together with other organizations. In many cases we supplement the basic care these organizations offer. They offer the kids food, a place to sleep and sometimes education, but do not have the time, money or expertise to offer them psychological support as well. We offer this support by conducting drama, music, dance and art workshops, in which we focus on teaching the kids social and emotional skills in a safe, comfortable environment. By working together like this we are able to offer them a more complete and effective aid package, than if we were to work alone.
Casa de la Amistad
One of our projects is in the center of the city, where we work with children who live in prison. Some of these kids are incarcerated themselves, but many others live there because their mother is, and in Bolivia it is quite normal for children to live in prison with one of their parents. During the day, the children are taken in by Casa de la Amistad (in Spanish), a non-profit organization that offers the children food and education. We supplement this aid by teaching the kids about aggression and domestic violence, which are issues most of them have a lot of experience with. We help them to see that things can be different, that their behavior can and does impact the situation they are in, and teach them skills that will help them deal with these situations in a more constructive way. We also work with the mothers, most of whom are in prison for killing their husbands after years of abuse, and teach them life skills that will not only help them, but that they can pass on to their (other) children after they get out. Our aim is to make sure the aid we give affects not only the people we work with directly, but the rest of the community as well. In a later stage we also want to work on sexual education; a few of the teenage girls are already mothers, and sexual violence is very common. We want to make the kids more aware of their own physical and emotional boundaries, as well as other people’s.
This project is aimed toward youth in the ages 8-18 in the southern part of the city, where the poverty is greatest. Many of these kids are involved in (petty) crime, selling gum or stolen goods, and are addicted to drugs (glue). We work together with Atiy (in Dutch), an organization that offers the kids education and medical attention, but isn’t able to offer full psychological support as well. We offer this aid, and help the kids work on the social and emotional skills they need to become more self-sufficient. We also help them deal with traumas, become more assertive and resilient, and develop a more positive self-image. We offer an intensive program, and work on our goals using individual and group exercises, improvisation and other drama techniques. We also work on discovering and developing the kids’ individual interests and talents.
We also regularly work with temporary groups. This is especially the case in the summer, when the children do not go to school, and many wander the streets with nothing to do but get in trouble. One advantage of these temporary groups is that we are paid to teach the workshops, and the money we make goes toward further development of our programs. The different projects have different goals, some aim to keep the kids off the streets and out of trouble, some want to introduce them to theatre, and others want to reach a (sub)goal in a short amount of time, for example by teaching the kids some practical skills. Obviously, these projects take a very different approach to our long-term programs, and thus have different goals and expectations.
As we work with social and emotional development we don’t often have the luxury of quick and easily measurable results. Instead, we deal with long-term processes that are different in every child. We keep a file for each child, in which our teachers write down their progress.
In general we can conclude that for some of our themes, like talent development, micro social skills (learning to listen, respect and give compliments) and macro social skills (learning to work together, trust and take initiative), we can see a faster and clearer progress than in others. However, even in the faster themes the results differ markedly from child to child. This can be clearly seen in the micro social skills, which the girls pick up much quicker than the boys. The themes that deal with feelings, personal boundaries and assertiveness take much more time and personal attention. These are long term processes that come with ups and downs, and differ markedly between each child. However, even though the pace in these themes is much slower, we are now seeing definite progress in all of our kids. Even the ones that were too afraid to tell us their names in the beginning are now able to tell us what they did on the weekend. Although this may not seem like much, to them it is a huge accomplishment.
Even though we deal with long-term processes without fast results, we believe this approach is crucial to achieving lasting results. We teach the kids skills that will help them for the rest of their lives, and which they can in turn teach their own (future) children. That to us is much more important than achieving a quick and easy success.