The Foundation for Family Development (FUNDEFAM) has long desired to work in partnership with local public schools and so we were thrilled with the recent opportunity to enter the junior high school located just a few blocks away from our building. We facilitated an 8 week violence prevention program called Proyecto Cambio (Project Change) with two groups of 12-13 year olds, each group consisting of 40 students. Claudia, the program director, and I facilitated one of the groups. Last Thursday was our last class, and we had a lot of fun with the students and invited them all to participate in the youth group at FUNDEFAM.
This was one of the most exciting and at the same time difficult groups I have ever facilitated. Many of the young teenagers come from the marginalized communities that we serve at FUNDEFAM, where they are surrounded by violence. We have a lot of respect for the teachers working with over-filled classrooms and difficult group dynamics; it was evident they were under-resourced and lacked training as they often resorted to yelling at the kids in order to “control” them. The students are not used to participating in the classroom, so when we asked them open questions or divided them into groups for an activity, it was difficult for them and for us to know how to encourage them to share their opinions and respect one another.
We even witnessed violence among some of the students, as they’d kick each other under their desks, poke one another, call each other names, bully certain kids. When we started talking about boyfriend/girlfriend relationships, there was a lot of smart aleck comments from the boys to the girls.
One in every three romantic relationships in junior/senior high school is abusive. And, with many of the students coming from communities where they witness violence, either in their homes or in the streets, there is an even greater need to work for peace in their relationships. Some have dropped out of school because they’ve been threatened by the gang members to join them.
There were times when Claudia and I would get discouraged and wonder if all this work was really worth it. We usually felt this way after a class where we discussed difficult topics, like sexuality or conflict, and there were so many disruptions from the students that it seemed like what we were doing wasn’t getting through. However, there were other times when we would see a light in a student’s eyes showing us he understood what we were talking about or a student would speak and share her opinion boldly with the class.
One of my favorite times during the 8 week course was when Abigail, a teenager from FUNDEFAM’s youth group who helped us facilitate the class, read the poem “Yo Soy Especial” (I am special) to the class. All 40 students were listening carefully and were hearing the good news that God had created them special, unique, with great worth and a purpose in this life.
I am thankful for the opportunity to have been able to participate in this project, and I pray that the door will remain open to FUNDEFAM to continue offering this course to other groups at the junior high. I also trust that God used this time to plant some seeds of dignity and worth in each student that one day will produce more peaceful and healthy relationships with their family and friends and within their communities.