Friday, December 12, 2008

Youth Development through Empowerment

Youth empowerment is quite possibly the best method of achieving youth development.  Self-esteem, confidence and self-awareness of youth are all issues that need highlighting in development within the community.  Youth become unattached, insecure, and have a sense of personal failure when they lack direction in their lives.  Too often, individuals are lost in the grander scheme of things and they feel as if they have no guidance.  By spending the time and effort to empower youth, we can begin to facilitate the ability to achieve great action within themselves and, shortly there after, the community.  

I have been spending a lot of my time building relationships with the youth in my community for the purpose of building self-esteem, self-
confidence and self-awareness within these youth.  Despite the presence of teachers, many of the students feel, often times, alone in their daily routines.  By establishing a connection with the students, I can build relationships with them that are supportive and create positive reinforcement.  

Many of these youth have disciplinary issues or perform poorly in school because they are without proper guidance.  The limitations of a teacher are obvious in the St. Lucian classroom.  Not only do a great portion of St. Lucian teachers lack on positive disciplinary methods, but they have classes that are larger 
than typical classrooms in other areas of the world.  Many of the classrooms have 25+ students and, therefore, the teacher to student ratio is out of control.  In order for education to be more effective, the student needs a good amount of one-to-one academic time.  Of which, the particular students that I am working with receive slim to none.  I am attempting to spread the idea of working with individuals more often outside of the schools when possible.  In order for this to happen, parents need to be more involved in their childrens' educational lives, tutoring and community workshops need to be instilled and maintained, and after 
school programs should be offered for homework help and positive role modeling.  

With Gros Islet Primary School, I have been spending my time on literacy, numeracy, arts and crafts and sporting.  Working in small groups with the children that need more individual attention has been my primary goal.  Taking these students outside of the classroom is sometimes difficult, as the teachers have a certain agenda.  Often times, I end up substituting or watching over the classroom while teachers get other agenda items completed.  For my own personal growth, this is perhaps one of the greatest gifts I have been given.  This is because the longer I work in St. Lucia with the Primary School, the more I think about getting my teaching certificate after Peace Corps service.  However, I make it clear to the school that I am not a certified teacher and, therefore, should be the last resort if needed.  

In addition, I also have been doing arts and crafts with the students in spare time as a reward for working hard.  I find that most of the students have some sort of artistic talent, and when they sit down to draw or color they are generally much more well-behaved.  Art allows the students to express the creativity that they often times do not get to expend during normal classtime.  

    With Grow Well, I recently began teaching an IT/English class with a program called "Thinking Reader".  This program allows the student to interactively hear and read a book through the computer.  The program is great because the levels of learning are much different with the second-chance program students.  Each student can move at their own pace, while being tested at each interval and learning how to read successfully in six different strategies.  I am allowed to access the progress made by the students over time and at each interval.  At the same time, they are learning how to type and use the computer software available, which proves to be extremely valuable in the lives of St. Lucian students after their education.  IT is important to teach in developing countries because IT changes so frequently, and being ahead of the game rapidly increases job opportunities in the technological field.  

   The after school club is my primary concern (along with creating a sports program) at Grow Well.  Because of the need for an after school program, the sports program may take a little longer to get going.  However, in hopes of coordinating with the secondary school, I will be introducing volleyball and either tennis or track and field shortly after the new term begins.  In order to do this, work with the ministry of social transformation; youth and sports needs to take part and coordinating a schedule with the secondary also needs to happen.  The after school program is one of the new initiaves for Gros Islet as I am finding out.  Grow Well has been wanting to implement an after school program for quite awhile and, thus, I am their catalyst for now.  Beginning after the new term, as well, we will be combining library and the club to focus on
 homework help, games and recreation, healthy guidance, and arts and crafts.  Along down the road, we will hopefully introduce club-building activities including but not limited to:  Evironmental Club, Community Activities Club, Photography and Arts Club, Volunteerism Club, and others as options.  Grow Well is hoping to put in a joint bid with the community to secure a larger plot of land which can be beneficial in creating a more sustainable community centre offering an after school program.  For now, we are trying to get the ball rolling so that the students have a place to come.  

If you have any ideas or questions, feel free to let me know!!!   I have been nervous a good portion of the time, because I really want to be successful in these areas but I can never tell for sure if they are going to happen.  First thing is first, though, and that is getting these students to start believing in themselves as individuals and that often takes a good amount of time!   Spending time with these youth, in a variety of ways, is the best way to help this process and it may take the entire two years to help them along their way!  I have the time
 and energy to commit to them, however... whether it be through sports, arts and crafts, Girl's Circle, or whatnot, I am trying to reach them anyway I can.   What I have learned over the last four months, is that love and compassion can guide anyone to success.  And these children, and every child additionally, deserves individual attention and guidance to help them along their way.  It makes all of the difference.  

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