Sunday, July 29, 2012

Project Prepare Youth Allies - Witnessing Heroes at Work

             As our fourth week in Ethiopia comes to a close, the importance of providing youth aging out of care with the Project Prepare curriculum is becoming more evident. This week, the modules in the Project Prepare curriculum focused on identifying reliable people within an individual’s social support network and finding safe work, raising awareness of some of the risks of migration such as trafficking. Both modules provided new information to the youth participants. Moreover, the kids engaged in active discussion on the topic, raising important questions such as how to weigh the prospect of having a better life with the risks associated with migration and who to include in their social support network other than the staff members at the orphanage. The most critical component of the Project Prepare curriculum is that a space for these kids to brainstorm and talk about these vital issues in depth is provided.

            In order to create a safe space, the role of the youth allies or the facilitators of the Project Prepare curriculum is most crucial. As an observer, one of the most impressing and rewarding aspects of this program is to see the youth allies engage with the kids at each site with love, respect, and admiration for each child. At Children’s Heaven, the youth allies greet the girls with hugs and kisses. Their time is spent talking and listening to the girls, braiding their hair, and monitoring their activities, often times participating in the fun. At AHOPE, the youth allies go above and beyond their expectations to be a constant source of support. Every greeting is with a hug and smiles, followed by a series of questions reminiscent of an exchange between parent and child. One of the youth allies plans to live with the boys at their new facility, teaching them how to live independently. “We will be like a family,” he says. Finally, the youth ally at World Wide Orphans Foundation can easily be identified as a source of happiness for the kids. I witnessed her return from time taken off for her wedding. The kids’ eyes brightened as she walked in. They ran to hug her and shower her with stories of what happened to them when she was absent. She eagerly listened and her exchanges with them sent them into fits of laughter. As we were walking together she unexpectedly remarked, “If I do not see the kids for more than two days, I really miss them.”

The power of these daily interactions that I am able to witness at all three sites is brought into the classroom when the youth allies become facilitators. Their presence sets a tone for honesty, trust, and compassion—components for a safe space. They are also able to pose questions to the kids and gently push them to think beyond some of their simple answers. The result of their work is an hour (or sometimes two) filled with lively and thought provoking discussion on pertinent information for youth aging out.

During last week’s activity on heroes, every pilot site had atleast one group of kids say that the facilitator was their hero; as I witness their interactions with one another, I can easily see why. I am fortunate to work with and learn from such passionate and remarkable individuals.

Amharic word of the week
Role Model:
Mente falegale (Male)
Mente Falegalesh (Female)

Aatifa Sadiq
IOFA Program Development Intern

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