Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Growing Up

"So, what do you think you might like to do when you grow up?" I ask
the 17-year-old girl sitting across from me. She promptly looks down
and away and says nothing. 30 seconds elapse; still not a word. I
try a different question: "Have you ever thought about what your life
might be like when you leave this home?" She continues looking away
and heaves her shoulders in a sigh. No reply.
This month we are launching a program at Cornerstone Children's Home
to help the children reintegrate into their families and communities
when they reach the age of 18. The program aims to teach them a
vocational skill, learn to create and manage a budget, and find a
place to live. To help them along the way, each child age 16 and over
was assigned a staff mentor to guide them through the process over the
course of one to two years. It is a big step forward for the home,
which up to now has had no exit strategy for the kids – several of
whom are already in their early 20s.
I expected to encounter resistance; the kids are being asked to
shoulder the responsibility for their own futures. They are learning
by doing – learning agriculture by growing food and raising chickens.
They are expected to work 10 hours each week on a project around the
home. This program marks a significant paradigm shift, and this
change – as with all change – feels both difficult and frightening.
As I sit with the girl, however, I realize something I hadn't
expected: she isn't resisting me because she doesn't like the idea of
work, nor because she is afraid of the prospect of change. She isn't
even actively resisting me; she has just never thought about the
future before. This is shocking to my American sensibility, to my
proud cultural heritage in which we start preparing children for
university while in utero. When I ask her what she thinks her life
might be like in five years, she can't answer because she has never
thought that far ahead.
I take a deep breath and begin again: she went to visit her older
sister at Christmastime – what was that like? What did she do while
she was there? Did she like cooking? Really? What can she cook?
What else? What else? Did she cook with her sister? Would she like to
become a tailor like her sister? But what if someone taught her to sew
first? Does her sister's husband have land or are they just renting a
house? Would she like to live there with the sister's family? Was it
fun seeing her sister's children? Would she like to have children of
her own someday? Aaaaand…that's when we were imagining too far into
the future. But on the way there I discovered that this young girl
not only knows how to cook, but she enjoys cooking. She knows how to
embroider and might like to learn to sew. She definitely does not
want to become a nurse. She has tried growing food before but wants
to learn the right way.
All in all, I'd call that a productive first meeting.
Of course, I can't get the other five children with whom I need to
meet to stop running away every time they see me coming.

1 comment:

  1. Great insights! I believe there is a great divide between a society which has lived so much with their ancestors and in survival mode not knowing if they will survive the day (believing more in fate than anything else) and a society which forgets their ancestors but always looks at the future. We are raised thinking always about our future with a lot of hope and possibilities.

    Keep up the good work. Seeking to instill vision and hope is so valuable but hard work. Remembering most of the children do have clan and kin to return to is so important to their future wellbeing. Figuring out how to foster that may be the greatest challenge.