June 01, 2012

jr. youth group: moments together

Akua discovering all of the nests and birds above her head
our Baha'i-inspired jr. youth group, Gems of Justice, 
recently experienced an outing.  we had little money and not much time, so we decided on visiting the University of Ghana's gardens.  with traffic and poor infrastructure, which is very typical everywhere, it took us 45 minutes to travel about 5 miles!  everyone was looking forward to leaving the neighborhood, taking a car ride, listening to music in the car, eating special snacks and exploring something new..

the University of Ghana gardens is not what one would typically consider as a 'garden'.  there are no flowering plants or paths full of interesting flora.  it is basically a natural area around a small lake with an island that is conserved from development.  a playground area is set up in an open area upon entering, with an eatery and bungalow area for entertaining.  beyond the playground is one path that immediately navigates you along a small lake with an island in the middle.  as you walk, you can observe dozens of nests of a unique type of bird that has built a little colony there -- it was quite interesting to see how they created this home for themselves.  the path takes you to open areas beyond the lake which are not manicured but are suitable for renting out and setting up tents and chairs to have events or activities.  we brought a blanket to sit on and eat snacks, but most of the time the kids explored the path which intersected a stream that had fish in it.  they also played soccer and ampeh.  they enjoyed taking a canoe ride around the lake, something they had never done before.
the girls playing 'ampeh', a traditional ghanaian game

what i liked most about the outing was seeing the kids be themselves together without the formality of the group session.  the girls hung out on their own while the boys wandered around a lot and kept themselves very active.  it was good for them to share Nature together, as well as interact with other kids who were there.

Giftie, laughing while hanging out

at one point an official came to scold the kids for being in the stream.  it was a typical military style approach to scaring the kids, warning them that they will be in trouble if they are seen by the stream again.  i approached the man when he was finished and informed him that it was my fault -- that i was the first to put my feet in the running water and that they followed me, which is true.  i allowed them to step into the edge and try to collect a fish in an empty water bottle.  this is how i grew up interacting with streams.  they are full of interesting ecological observances.  it was a moment whereby the kids felt safe and supported, rather than silenced and scolded.  i realize that my approach to life is different and that it's important to abide by authority, but in this instance, i felt justified in defending our acts and thankfully, the man said nothing more to us after i assured him that we would no longer touch the stream..

by the end of our time along the path and in the open fields, the kids enjoyed a very relaxing time in the playground area.  although some of them are 14 and 15 years old, they swang and see-sawed like they were young children in heaven.  i sat quietly observing them for an hour or so before everyone was hungry and came around to let me know they were ready to leave.

ready to leave the parking lot at the local shopping mall
with limited time and heavy traffic we decided to drive to the local shopping area near our neighborhoods and buy snacks to eat instead of an inexpensive, local meal on the side of the road somewhere.  the shopping area has a playground and entertainment area that people rent out for parties; we stood outside the fence and enjoyed ghanaian 'azonto' music while young children at a party danced.  our group meandered around the shopping area, perhaps dreaming of what they could buy, and happily contented themselves with ice cream treats before we drove home..together. :)

the next day we met for the first time at a new location.  it is in a neighborhood far down the street where 3 of the jr. youth members live.  the group consulted and decided it was most fair if we alternate locations every other week.  the 3 boys who live in this location felt happy to host us.  they brought chairs and a table, and served us sachets of cold water.  it was the first time in a long time that we were all together.  only one girl was missing the session this time.  they studied, answered questions, laughed, played a game, practiced their stepdance, and talked a lot together.

 it is challenging to keep a group together when they don't all associate together outside of the group sessions.  there are many different lifestyles, and opposing forces of community life, pulling at them.  they become absorbed and distracted by many temptations of the material world.  it takes continual effort as an animator to bring them together, to encourage them and provide a vision for a way to live that embodies striving for excellence -- both academically and spiritually.  most of my energy is directed toward their spiritual development, starting with basic manners and conduct.  it is very inspiring to see little signs of change and growth as they embrace the spirit of this program. :)
our first time having the session where 3 of the boys live
finishing up Breezes of Confirmation
lots of laughter while playing UNO
our table of UNO cards

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