We have to apologize for seriously neglecting our blog lately. As promised, the less we’re blogging, the busier we are doing awesome things, and the past couple of weeks have been especially busy and awesome! When we last discussed our activities at Chishawasha, we were preparing to deliver a series of workshops to the mothers, teachers, and other staff members here. We have since conducted a fantastic professional development program over the course of four days with the Chishawasha staff, which we had a great time doing and which they absolutely loved... so much so that we’ve been asked to do one more afternoon session on our last day here (tomorrow! Can’t believe it!). We’ve also run a short workshop series with the middle age group of children, a career development and visioning program with the oldest children, a “playshop” with the youngest children (hilarious and so much fun!), and we’re currently running a girls’ group and a boys’ group to discuss important issues in the older children’s lives. We’ve been facilitating something every single day for the past several weeks, and our free time is spent preparing for whatever is coming up next (also cribbage games... but our laundry has been seriously neglected... we blame the weather).
First off, the staff workshops. The mothers and teachers here are such wonderful, passionate, caring women, and it was such a pleasure to spend some good time working with them and getting to know them better. Since the Chishawasha school has many students of various ages who are going to school for the first time, the teachers have the daunting task of managing classrooms in which the students are a wide range of ages and learn at completely different paces. Their proficiency in English also varies a lot, but even with these challenges, the teachers here are providing quite a high quality of education to children who would likely not otherwise get one. We really admire what they achieve every day. Since they are all elementary school teachers, we prepared a workshop for them about working with adolescents, as well as several sessions about some of the groundbreaking theories about intelligence and learning, and how to recognize and support a child who may be dealing with a learning disability. It was a pretty enormous amount of information to unload on them in a short period of time, but they assured us that it was extremely helpful and that they were thirsty for more.
The mummies, as they are called, are so clearly experts at their jobs: Being mothers and raising children. Many of them raised families of their own before building new families at Chishawasha, and some are juggling both at the same time. Their commitment to the children is amazing to us, and we couldn’t help but feel completely inspired hearing Mummy Martha talk about how God brought her to be with her children in House 4. Just like all parents, these mummies are often baffled by the inexplicable behaviour of their teenagers, so we spent quite a while with them discussing adolescent psychology and strategies for working with teenagers – which seemed pretty exciting and informative for them.
(At this point, we’re sure our parents are laughing their heads off at the thought of us educating people about dealing with teenagers. Jenny’s parents in particular like to tell everyone how she was like the girl from The Exorcist when she was 14, and they really hope Jimi knows what he’s getting himself into. We figure our parents are waiting for Karma to jump up and bite us when we have our own teenagers, and THEN we’ll see just how much we know about dealing with them!)
Aside from teenagers, we did sessions on active listening, conflict mediation, and community building with the mummies. We suspect they are already experts at all of the above, but perhaps we offered them some ways of explaining what they do intuitively. At any rate, they were very engaged and asked many questions, especially about teenagers, and they were so excited about everything they were learning. We got some great reactions from them – and many were eager to tell us how much of a difference it made for them. We only wish we could tell them how mutual that feeling is.
With both the mummies and the teachers separately, and with the whole Chishawasha staff together, we did leadership development and teambuilding, which involve a substantial amount of silliness and very active learning. We thought it might be difficult for these professionals to take us seriously if we began our sessions with funny icebreaker games, but it turned out to be absolutely hilarious to see how much they got into it! They had so much fun and we all laughed until we cried. They really loved the team initiative tasks as well, which begin as challenging but essentially meaningless activities, but then turn into incredible ways of looking at team dynamics, communication, problem-solving, etc. Our favourite: The Blind Rope Square, where the group has to make a perfect square out of a rope while everyone is blindfolded. We had some fantastic discussions about how they can all work better together as Chishawasha staff, and what it means to be successful as a team. Afterwards, Mummy Miriam told us we had “brainstormed” her. We’re not sure exactly what that means, but we think it might be the best compliment we’ve ever had on our facilitation skills!
Finally, we did a session with the whole staff on shared vision, values, and strategic planning. This session might have been the best in a series of really amazing sessions because by this point the group had become comfortable enough with each other to be really open and honest. The staff were able to discuss frankly and constructively what their weaknesses and insecurities were and what they could do to improve, and we think it’s safe to say that everyone left that session with some really valuable insights and an excitement for how they can move forward. Overall, they were an absolutely wonderful group to work with, and we had an incredible time. We’ve had some really encouraging and positive feedback on the sessions from everyone from Philip to the Chishawasha driver, Peter (really great guy with a beautiful family), so we’re holding out hope that they might be willing to let us come back someday to do more workshops!
While we hope that people learned something from us, there is no doubt that we learned more from them than we can ever express. We’re so grateful for how freely they share their culture, from patiently teaching us Nyenja and traditional dances to helping us understand their distaste for owls (apparently a sign of witches in Zambian tradition... not what we expected when using owls as an example of good leadership qualities!). Mummy Christine has even promised to teach us how to cook nshima tomorrow... we can’t wait!
Our three-day workshop with the 10-13-year-olds was also a total blast, but a bit more of a challenge. We wanted to offer them some of the same leadership development lessons that we facilitated for the older children, and we struggled to find a way to make it accessible for them. As usual, we had a great time playing games with them, and worked in some good lessons on trust and leadership in between. The third and last session on teamwork was definitely the most powerful. We did some tasks with them that look very simple on the surface, but require a really high level of cooperation in order for a team to be successful with them. The kids went through a very challenging process to get to the point of understanding not only why they needed to cooperate, but also how to do so, but ultimately all of the struggles resulted in some really impactful learning. What was most exciting for us, aside from these learning moments, was seeing the kids come out of their shells with us and show us who they really are. Through the workshops, we got to see the true colours of some of the kids who had been exceptionally shy with us previously, and it was amazing! They are all such wonderful people, and we’re lucky to be getting to know them.
Our career development and visioning workshop, on which we worked particularly hard, was looking to be a bit of a bust at 9:30 AM last Saturday, half an hour after the designated start time. Then we saw one gentleman, Lazarus, heading in the direction of our classroom, and we asked him if anyone else was coming. He explained that everyone was busy doing laundry, which we immediately understood. It was the first day in quite a long time during which the weather was good enough to hang clothes out to dry (we probably should have taken advantage too... but we were preparing workshops...). Jimi investigated the situation with the kids, who looked sheepish when he asked if they were coming when their laundry was done. We had planned for an all-day workshop, but that would conflict with the Zambian national team’s football game at 2:00 PM! Since football trumps pretty much everything else around here, we quickly adjusted our time frame, and managed to deliver a very useful workshop based almost entirely on self-reflection and still get the kids home on time for the football match! It was amazing to see how engaged the kids seemed to be with the challenging personal reflection questions we gave them. They were so focused... or maybe they just wanted to make sure they finished before the game started... But career decisions and envisioning the future are clearly on the minds of the oldest children. They will have a significant transition when they finish high school and have to leave the safety and shelter of Chishawasha, and much as they are ambitious and look forward to their future, they know it won’t be easy. Their adjustment to living independently will involve more change and more learning than most other young adults’ departure from their homes, and they want to take advantage of every opportunity to make that transition easier.
For the youngest children, we decided to engage them in the purest form of learning: Play! Last Sunday afternoon, we spent about 2-3 hours with them just teaching them some of our favourite games, and it was so much fun! Just like with the 10-13-year-olds, the kids’ true personalities really came out throughout the time we spent playing with them, and they got more and more comfortable with us as well. Jenny was definitely immobilized for about 3 minutes straight, by children when our game of ‘everyone’s it tag’ turned into ‘everyone get Jenny tag’. She loved it! The kids here all have designated chores and they are all ready and willing to help anytime something needs to be done, so it’s wonderful to see them having fun as well. These kids will be amazing older brothers and sisters one day if the way they treat the youngest ones is any indication. There is one young boy, James, who is several years younger than any of the other kids, and he’s the only one who’s too young for school. He just arrived at Chishawasha a few months ago, so he’s been pretty quiet and nearly avoidant of us most of the time. In the last few days, however, we’ve gotten a few waves and smiles from him which made our days! James came to our ‘playshop’ - he speaks hardly any English so far, so he couldn’t understand any of what we said. The other kids, especially the ones from his house, made sure he was always included and having fun, and really wanted him to be part of everything, which was really heartwarming. Otherwise, it’s a pretty amazing feeling of acceptance when a young child wants nothing more than to hold your hand every chance he or she gets, and there was plenty of that during the afternoon.
Our last big project is the girls’ and boys’ groups we’ve been running since the middle of last week. It’s Jimi’s first time running something like a counselling group, and he loves it! And Jenny’s very excited to be getting back to her counselling roots. It has been amazing to see what happens when you separate the boys and the girls and give them the opportunity to talk about whatever they want. The insights we’ve gained into how these kids look at their lives have been unbelievable, and we’ve been amazed and humbled by how freely and openly they are sharing with us. Hopefully we are able to give them an opportunity to talk about ideas and issues that don’t normally come up, and answer a few of their more burning questions along the way.
Through our work here, we can feel ourselves becoming more and more a part of the community. We are so grateful to have had the opportunity to contribute as much as we feel we have, and to have gotten to know everyone here so well. We cannot believe how quickly our time here has flown by, but we definitely feel like we have given the best we could to Chishawasha. We have one more group session left and one more staff workshop, and then we’ll be off on adventures on our own, but we are feeling deeply how much our departure will affect us. We asked Philip if we could come back again someday, and his response was that we have no choice but to come back as soon as possible. We couldn’t agree more.
Jenny and Jimi