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A New Kind of Workshop
April 1, 2013


When Zoey, one of our volunteers, mentioned last July how quickly the kids participated in her activities, it first caught my attention. As the year progressed, I began to see more and more how lively and free the kids were becoming, but it wasn’t until the Christmas party–when a quiet 17-year-old sang two songs in English by herself in front of a crowd of 200 people, and a 15-year-old with an obvious medical condition led several dances front and center, and when a young boy whose parents often let him know how little they care made friends with all the Singaporeans–that it struck me how much the kids have grown in confidence in the past two years. Where they were two years ago is like night & day compared to where they are now. When I first started teaching at SOLD, I had all kinds of academic goals for the kids (based on ideas born of my own experience growing up in the U.S. and the requirements for success we tell our young, middle class, educated kids). Those plans quickly fell apart when I realized some of the basics I had taken for granted in my sheltered life were not so basic for these kids. Like the courage to try. Even an activity as basic as coloring was daunting to many of these kids who were terrified of doing anything, for fear of doing it wrong. I started to realize that before I could teach them that holy grail of “critical thinking” I had to teach them something more basic: to believe in themselves. To believe they are worthwhile and that they can do things worthwhile. I have a theory, you see. I have a theory that in order to teach them life skills, I need to first teach them that, as human beings, they are worth having skills. Because why do we teach “critical thinking” in the first place, if not so kids can use that skill of analysis to protect themselves later in life? So that when a politician sells them an unbelievable story, they’ll have better instincts. So that when a trafficker comes to call, they’ll know this person is not their friend. We can’t tell them what to say and do in every situation life will confront them with. But we can arm them enough to be careful where they place their trust and to learn to ask questions, instead of following blindly. We teach it to help them protect themselves – but first they must believe they are worth protecting. Last year went a long way towards building their confidence. This year, I’m continuing with that theme in their education this year, teaching them life skills that might be useful, but that also helps them see their self-worth and value as individuals and human beings, with the hope that if they learn to value themselves, they will be less likely to let themselves get into trouble. We’ll cover things like: how to maintain body health & hygiene, how to cultivate healthy relationships (both with family and significant others), healthy and honest ways to manage conflict in a relationship, and even one for our boys on what it means to be a man. But before we begin with such heady topics, we started with one on self-esteem. We started with a trust exercise – you know the one where people pair up and you have to let yourself fall backward and trust the other person will catch you? We did that one. The kids were giggling and having a ton of fun, but it was challenging too, and it was obvious who had a harder time trusting. We had them take note of what went through their heads: how it seemed hard or impossible at first, but they had to control their fear, and once they did, they could do it. We said that’s like any challenge in life: your brain might tell you that you can’t, but if you can control your thoughts, you’ll find all kinds of things you can do. But just like how you had to trust the person behind you, you have to create a relationship of trust with yourself, to know that you can do it. I think they got the picture, and the trust exercise seemed to be a good way to show them viscerally what we were talking about. We made lists of things they liked about themselves (with some kids, this part seemed like I’d given them a tough exam they hadn’t prepared for, for all the hard thinking they were doing), and lists of things that made them happy. We sang songs (Whitney Houston’s Greatest Love of All), and made a rubber band chain, with each link in the chain representing something that made them happy. We told them to add a link each time something happened to make them happy, and one day it could grow quite long, and if there comes a day when they don’t feel good about themselves, they can look back at their happy chain and remember all the things that made them happy. Then we finished with a showing of the movie Brave. We popped popcorn for them, and they had a grand ol’ time. At the end, we asked them a few questions about what they noticed in the movie. One answer they gave was that they loved the relationship between the mother and daughter best, and they liked how the mother and daughter were able to solve their problems by taking the time to understand each other. They’re smart cookies, these kids.   — Jade Keller Education Program Manager

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