May 21, 2012

jr. youth group ~ trying to keep the momentum going

since the break-in, our jr. youth group -- 'Gems of Justice' -- has been struggling to keep the momentum going.  three of the members live quite far down the road in a different neighborhood and they have less incentive to meet.  they used to walk all the time to my house but now that no one from the neighborhood is allowed to enter the compound, we now meet outside on a concrete foundation of an unfinished house that's dirty, without privacy, without a computer with music, without a toilet, etc.. another challenge is that three of the members are older than 13 and are bored with the level of material in the Breezes of Confirmation book.  the last challenge is the ongoing demand from the mother of the 2 sisters who are expected to do a lot of work, despite all efforts to communicate and find a time that works best for their family.  this is how the story continues..

this past saturday's jr. youth group session was most unusual.  about 2 hours before we usually meet, a severe storm suddenly appeared and made everyone's activities shut down until it passed.  for the many families who live in wooden shacks, the storm was devastating.  roofs were blown off, floors were flooded, and some entire structures were blown over on their sides.. from my family's living room windows, we watched with awe and wonder at the might of the wind and the pounding of the rain.  we were protected from the storm while our neighbors were threatened in a way we'll never know..

it was still drizzling when it was time to meet for the session.  i thought i should still try and make it happen even though there would be no dry place to meet.  on the other side of the wall of our compound, the two sisters, Evelyn and Gifty, live in three shack-like structures alongside an unfinished cement foundation of a huge house that is owned by someone else.  when ayana and i arrived, we found the girls helping their mother in the structure that is used for cooking and storage.  no damage was done to any of their family's structures but i could see that the morning's laundry was soaking wet and puddles of mud surrounded their walkways.  they had quickly prepared to collect water from the storm by putting large basins outside around the cooking structure..

as ayana and i stood there against the side of the walkway, out of the thick of the mud, we held our umbrella over our heads and tried to keep my bag of materials dry from the drizzle.  a neighbor who sells goods was there, trying to recover from the storm after it had beaten upon the goods that she sells from a small wooden stand.  she was making us laugh as she sang about her troubles and enjoyed the plastic bag wrapped around her head to protect her hair from the rain..

after a few minutes of standing and talking about the storm, the girls' mother arranged for us to sit inside the structure.  it is constructed of wide slats of wood on a cement foundation.  the tin roof is nailed into tall wooden posts that extend beyond the walls on 2 sides.  this design enables light to enter through the open space between the roof and the walls.  although the doorway allows light in as well, most of the room is still quite dark..

one of the girls brought a plastic chair for me and a little stool for ayana.  i sat next to Mama Yaw as she made cassava in a pot over a charcoal fire.  the eldest daughter continually fanned the fire for at least 20 minutes until the cassava was cooking.  as she fanned the fire, her sister came and went in and out of the room, doing a variety of jobs that her mom requested -- wiping off a dirty table outside with a dirty, damp cloth from a basin of used water; dumping dried charcoal into a large basket; filling a basin with fresh water; and helping the neighbor carry containers of goods across the road to help her set up her selling stand again..

the floor of the room was thick with a black, dirty substance that was damp.  i thought i would slip on it as i walked to my chair.  my eye scoped out the space trying to figure out how the family organizes their life and sustains their well-being.  the room is cluttered with tools and wood, baskets and basins, a shelf with bowls and supplies, and a low table with matches, cloths, and more bowls..

as i sat there i started asking questions about how the cassava is made.  i was curious about the charcoal and learned how they burn wood to make the charcoal.  talking with the girls and their mama was full of laughter and little moments of helping the girls feel more comfortable talking with me, as they are quite shy.  the older one translates what i say to the mama, and what the mama says to me.  before long, Mama Yaw was 'inviting' me to try and stir the cassava.  i placed my feet up on the steel bars which anchor the pot and attempted to lift up the heavy, porridge-like mixture with the long, wooden spoon..but i struggled to turn it smoothly and effectively like Mama Yaw does.  the girls had a good laugh watching me try..

the storm brought us together in this unusual way and led to the moment when it crossed my mind to ask the question, 'What do you do with the cooking water that's in the basin when you are finished cooking?'  Giftie quickly replied that they throw it onto the ground by the house -- where nothing but dirt and broken concrete slabs lie.  i was able to explain to them that this is the water waste that can be tossed into the center of the keyhole garden each day.  it finally clicked for the girls!  i had encouraged them before when we were learning about the keyhole garden idea, but now that we were in a practical setting for this to happen, they were able to truly learn what i meant and apply that learning in a very real way.  this will now become a part of their work when they are cooking!  they were so happy to tell their mom what we were talking about so that she, too, could understand and help the keyhole garden be most effective.

soon another jr. youth came by, Emil.  he was all ready for the session with his Breezes of Confirmation booklet.  the four kids and i immediately started consulting about our next outing.  it's not exactly 'consultation' in the fullest, Baha'i sense but we try.  i make sure everyone feels encouraged to share and that everyone listens to each other's suggestions and tries to support them before moving on to a new idea, etc.. but in Africa, it takes a long time before the kids will be forthcoming with what they really want or what they really feel.  we're just now at a point in our group that half of them will easily say what they think or feel -- these are the ones who used to visit our home almost every day for tutoring, Devotions, storytelling and children's class.  the others still sit quietly in that passive mode of being talked to and receiving what is offered rather than contributing to the process.. the consultation that afternoon went very well because Gifty, who is very quiet, shook her head 'no' when i offered going to the beach, as some of the group did for the last outing.  the four of them were able to agree on going to see a waterfall, which sounds really nice.

at that point, another girl arrived and our session switched gears.  i suggested that we go to my place to fill up the water balloons for a game of tossing them.  we walked and talked together with the intent on everyone doing something to help make the game happen.  since none of the kids can enter the compound, i filled them up myself while they talked just inside the gate.  everything we experience together is what helps the group grow into its own identity.  this group session was about just being together.  i was pleased that 5 out of 9 of the group were together, despite the rain..

the balloon toss was fun.  the jr. youth were joined by 3 of the children who come to children's class.  this is an activity everyone always enjoys.  it was close to 6pm now and there was nowhere to sit outside, so i announced that i was going to leave.  Emil immediately suggested we have closing prayers.  this is a soul who is attracted to the spiritual excellence aspect of the jr. youth group.  i was elated and quickly took out a prayer book from my bag, as well as the Selection by Abdu'l-Baha which starts with 'Be in perfect unity..'  i gave the Selection to Gifty and we all formed a circle on the edge of her yard by the road.  once our eyes were closed, prayers and Selections were offered with sweet, pure hearts..

having a jr. youth group is multifaceted with sports, service, games and activities, but it has a core element of prayer, memorizing, and spiritual discourse while working through booklets that stretch the mind and heart in ways that help the kids strive toward spiritual excellence.  without this element it feels like we're just any other group of people hanging out and socializing.  today, we didn't begin with prayer or study and talk about anything relating to excellence, but after that closing moment of prayer together, i felt confirmed in the dynamic process of being a group when we make an effort to come together no matter what the circumstances.

after i left, the 3 boys that live down the road came by at 6pm to see if we were still meeting.  i appreciated that they did make an effort even though it was too late..  at last week's session, the few who came consulted and decided to meet every other week where these 3 boys live to make it fair.. the last boy who didn't come at all today is 15; he is genuinely interested in the group but was introduced to it too late and has other commitments in his life -- that afternoon he was expected to help his family repair one of their shacks that blew over on its side..

it's not easy to keep the momentum going, but there's nothing else in my heart but a willingness to try.

No comments:

Post a Comment