When we work in prevention, we often contend with competing forces: positive ones of inspiration and achievements, and the more difficult ones of intransigence. Staff member Kate shares a day in her work and what it took to wade through both the highs and the lows.
Earlier this month, I called the four students that one of our sponsors takes care of. I set up an appointment with each of them. Two of the students are sisters. I planned to meet with both of them together at their school on the 9th. On my way there, I tried calling each of them, but only one of them had their phone on, and she told me she had decided to go into town that day, which is about one hour away from their school. She added that her sister was still at school, though, so I decided to at least meet with her.
School was closed that day, so the sister in town suggested I go to her dorm instead. She gave me the directions, and I tried to follow them to her dorm. However, the directions I received from her were incorrect. I feel like she intentionally lied to me because no matter how many times I tried to get clarified directions from her, they were always wrong. I walked all over the place in the hot sun trying to find the dorm for about an hour and a half. Finally, when I did get to the dorm, I found out that it was located on the road before the school. But the sister had told me to go straight on that road past the school, turn to go behind another school, and finally turn down the same road I could have gone down in the first place. I had been walking in a big circle!
I was really frustrated. But I finally met with the sister in the dorm, only to find out that the sister in town had not filled out the forms I had asked both of them to do. Now I was even more upset. These girls were not taking care of their responsibilities. So I told them to mail the forms to me as soon as possible. Then I left.
After that, I went to meet with one of the other four students. This student is very responsible and diligent. He met with me and had filled out all of the required forms. Then my feelings changed. I felt better again, especially when he told me that he and his team had won his school’s competition for his field. Next month, his team is going to compete nationwide. I was very excited for him. When I shared his success with the rest of the SOLD staff, everyone was happy and felt inspired.
The two sisters–intentionally or not–made that day very difficult for me. I think it was intentional, but I can’t let that stop me. I try to encourage all the students I meet with to call me if they have to cancel; or if I have to postpone, I will call them. So it’s frustrating when they use other tactics, and when they are late with the required forms.
How did you perservere or try to overcome these obstacles?
I reminded myself that I don’t really know everything going on in our students’ lives, but I have the responsibility to do my very best in circumstances outside of my control. When I felt frustrated like that, I prayed to God to help me have peace and happiness in my heart again, and He helped me. I was also encouraged by the wonderful news about the third student, and that helped me remember that there is both good and bad in these relationships, and I need to hope for the good results. It’s not always bad.
Even though their forms were already late, I tried my hardest to help them fill them out as soon as possible without making the situation more stressful. I was very patient with the sisters, but I also tried to help them see how difficult they were making it for me. I treated it as a learning opportunity.
What happened in the end?
Despite how frustrating the situation was, I still did my duty. I was responsible, I changed my bad feelings into a good attitude, and I helped the sisters get the work done that they needed to do. I did not quit. I did not yell at them. I was a good example to them, and I turned a bad situation into a learning opportunity.
The second success of this story is the third student who has worked hard in school and in this recent competition of his. He has won in both and sets a good example for the other students to follow.
When I told this story to the staff, my story was all about how frustrating it was trying to contact and find the two sisters, but now I see that my example of how I handled my frustration is an important part of the story too.
This experience also made us [the staff] want to share the importance of the students’ responsibility with the other kids. We want them to realize how much they can help or hinder our work by their dedication or lack thereof. This story shows the frustration that follows if they don’t fulfill their duties, but it also shows an excellent example of a diligent student, and how much of a difference that can make for all of the staff and for the students themselves.
For every success story, there is also a challenge. When working in prevention, there are so many tiny changes that need to happen to facilitate big change. We need to change attitudes: not just about the dangers of prostitution or the benefits of education, but also the millions of little decisions people make that often (knowingly or not) hinder their own progress. What Kate says here about how we don’t know everything that goes on in the students’ lives highlights the grace we need to continually give in remaining non-judgmental and still continually point them in better directions. We may never know the sister’s motives in this situation, but perseverence in the face of intransigence is the only way to change a bad situation into a better one. Luckily for us, we have the successes too, to help push us forward when we encounter difficulty. In that sense, the relationship between students and staff goes both ways. We help them, yes. But they help us too.