Thirty-five beneficiaries of scholarships and bursaries from the National Community Foundation (NCF) and five invited students participated in a character-building workshop recently aimed at bolstering their empowerment skills. The workshop was held on Saturday, November 26 at NCF’s office on High Street, Castries, and was facilitated by Janine Palm of the Serieux Education Foundation.
The Serieux Education Foundation promotes awareness in young people regarding identity, dreams and aspirations with education, social media safety, positive relationships, and leadership-mentoring programmes. The Serieux Education Foundation also provides sustainability for the community and parents.
According to Palm, empowerment is extremely important for young children, especially those from marginalized communities. She said they usually do not get any outlet to express themselves or their feelings, or do not have the resources regarding counseling services on a daily basis.
“Building empowerment with young people who lack the resources is extremely important to building character, confidence and self-esteem, so they can develop into happier, fulfilling adults,” Palm said, at the conclusion of the workshop.
On coping with various environments, Palm said children need to apply what they learn in everyday life. She also believes that parents sometimes need to be open to challenges from their children and implement change where necessary.
“If a child wants to push boundaries by challenging their parents, they should do it in a constructive way,” she stated. “If parents begin to see a shift in their child attitude, it may be the result of a shift in the parent’s attitude.”
One of the observations made was that the children were very reserved when they first came into the room. Part of the workshop involved the children being moved around the room to sit next to a total stranger. Palm explained it was deliberate so as to get people to be out of their comfort zone and learning how to deal with such situations.
“As Caribbean people, we’re very comfortable in our comfort zone,” she said. “But we have to make people uncomfortable to get a positive impact. As is expected, you’ll feel uncomfortable in the beginning, but the outcome is worth it in the end when you begin to feel comfortable again. That’s how you build positive relationships and meet people outside your circle.”
Through the ice-breakers and group activities introduced by Palm, the children exhibited a positive attitude in what they were doing, in both their individual and group presentations. They also participated in other fun activities, including Spin-the-Wheel, with many winning special prizes.
Palm also spoke on how boys can grow up to be good and productive citizens. She said we need to have open conversations with our youth, find out where they are and what challenges they face, and see how we can adapt ourselves and conversations to suit them.
“If we had a better idea as to what’s going on with them on a daily basis, then we can provide resources and provide them along their journeys, instead of adults telling them how they should feel,” Palm explained. “You have to go to a grassroots level and actually talk to them and find out what young people are facing. I would hope what these young people took from the session is that it’s always good to challenge boundaries. But if they apply themselves and are assertive, they can do great things.”
Palm said most young people in Saint Lucia facing issues of crime come from low socio-economic backgrounds, adding that more social partners need to go into the communities to speak to people and assist them.
“You always give young people from certain backgrounds the opportunity to participate,” she said. “But what we saw (at this workshop) were children who do come from these disadvantaged backgrounds who also have a voice and need to be heard.”
Meanwhile, Michelle Phillips, Executive Director of the NCF, said the NCF believes that children’s education should be a holistic approach, and not simply monetary donations to buy school supplies. She said the NCF has interacted with children on various levels and has close contact with social workers and other people who are on the ground in the communities meeting with people.
“There’s a common denominator of anger and frustration that comes out,” Phillips said. “We recognized that a lot of these things happen because people are not confident in who they are and don’t understand the power they have to change the way things are. They can speak differently, think differently, act differently, and treat people differently for better results.”
Phillips added: “The children were taught to appreciate and speak nicely to their peers, and to think differently. They were taught how to change their speech, behaviours and their thinking to influence change in the social norms so that they can chart what actually happens in their lives.”
Phillips said the NCF came up with the idea for the sessions in response to requests from benefactors of their donor-advised funds. Previously, a similar session was hosted in August this year and tackled bullying. Due to the success of that, the NCF decided to host succeeding sessions for the youth as part of its 20th anniversary celebrations this year.
“A donor approached us and donated a sizeable amount to purchase school supplies,” Phillips said. “However, we told her that this was already catered for and that our children needed much more than books and shoes, so the money would be used to put these educational sessions together. Our intention is to now improve the product and then extend the sessions to students in our local communities.”
Meanwhile, another workshop was hosted by the NCF on Saturday, December 3 for another batch of students.