Monday, June 23, 2008

Developing a Camp for Healing

“We are now living, not just surviving.” Irene

Irene said this to me the other day when we had the good fortune of relaxing for an afternoon while in Rwanda. But what struck me about this quote was the fact most of the 1000s of kids I’ve meant would say the opposite. Most of the kids we have met are surviving, not living.

We want to change that.

My primary job while in Africa has been to identify how to address the basic needs of children (food, medical care, education and housing) while also developing means of providing for their long term basic needs (making our projects sustainable etc). But we want to go beyond that.

Most of these kids have been severely traumatized. They have seen a parent die, seen a brother or sister resort to prostitution or drugs, and/or starved themselves. That kind of emotional pain does not heal up as soon as you are able to meet a child’s health, food, medical and housing needs. That kind of pain lingers and prevents a child from growing into a successful, joyful adult. And therefore prevents a society and country from raising itself out of poverty.

So GVN Foundation wants to help address the emotional needs of these kids after their basic needs have been met.

It is for that reason we flew Nyawira up from S. Africa. Nyawira is an amazing woman. She was born in America, grew up in the Bronx but spent her summers in Kenya with her Kenyan mother. Through her education at Ithica College and George Washington University she has remained focused on helping kids. She recently married a South African man and moved to South Africa. She is GVN’s partner in S. Africa and remains committed to assisting the youth of South Africa by sourcing volunteers in key projects throughout the country.

She is also gifted at working with kids who have suffered severe traumas. It is for that reason we flew her up to Kenya to help me develop a ‘mini’ leadership/healing camp to run with kids in some of our projects here.

Nyawira and I worked last weekend on developing a series of workshops modeled after a leadership camp in the States called ‘Anytown.’ This camp is a camp Nyawira and I have both worked at and is a camp that completely changes kids. It’s a difficult camp to describe except that through a series of workshops, over a week, the kids leave the camp transformed- with a new, hopeful perspective on their future.

We took basic tenants of that camp and made a ‘mini’ version that we ran with 2 groups of kids. The first group was in a school in Kibera, the major slum of Nairobi. The second group was at one of the best orphanages/homes I’ve ever seen, Shelter Children’s Home in Masaai-Land.

We worked with the two groups on gender issues, stereotypes (how they hurt), tribalism and had long chats about the life struggles each of these kids have had to face.

At the end of the day all the facilitators (Nyawira, myself, Irene and 3 wonderful GVN volunteers- Liz, Stuart and Robbie) left feeling good about the groundwork we had laid for a leadership/healing camp for African Youth. The kids had taught us:

What stereotypes hurt them
What issues they faced on a day to day basis
What their hopes were for the future

These kids are the same as the American youth we had worked with in their hopes and dreams – they want families, they want to have important jobs and they want to be prosperous. The difference lies in their struggles. Most American youth haven’t lost a parent due to a debilitating disease, most American youth haven’t been sick for months on end with malaria or typhoid and most American youth haven’t lost a brother or sister to drugs or prostitution. These are the issues they face and these are the issues we want the camp to help them overcome!

Nyawira has returned to South Africa and I return to New Zealand soon, but we are both taking valuable lessons back with us. We will use those lessons to design a camp for African Youth that will help give kids the hope they need to start living.
Photos: Top to Bottom. The kids we worked with in Kibera.
A child at Shelter Children's Home explaining their 'River of Live to us.' We asked the kids to create a visual representation (a river) of the high and low points of their lives.

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