Running our program is going with the flow.

Bullying is never ok. 

Even though I like to include the same themes in every program we run, I also go with the flow. So, if something unexpected pops up, I jump right in to address it. 

In one of the sessions, a girl was ridiculed because she asked me how to spell the word teacher correctly. She felt attacked and started crying. I told all the children that is not how we act in my class. Everybody has to learn how to spell, and we all master a skill in a different way and at a different speed. I sat next to her, and comforted her while other children offered to write it for her. That was such a lovely gesture.

The child apologized, and everyone continued with their work. Still, I felt I wanted to discuss this as a theme, in another session, away from what happened that day.

Proud of her artwork.
How to create an image of what bullying does?

I started researching a visual of what bullying does to the victim. Certainly, you can talk about it, and most children will give a socially acceptable answer when you ask them what bullying does. Yet, I wanted something different, an image that shows the result of bullying. I am always surprised by how the right resource turns up. And this time was no exception because I came across a short video on Facebook.  

When all the children sat down, I showed them a blank piece of paper and asked them to say mean things to the paper. Every time they said something, I scrunched up a part of the paper. In the end, the piece of paper was a small ball in my hand.  

Obviously, the piece of paper does not look the same anymore when I opened it. The same happens with bullying, it does effect others in a major way.  I will refer to this every time I feel it is needed. After all, “a picture paints a thousand words.”

Session in full swing
We are using poetry to get a message across. 

In general, the children start questioning me the moment I arrive at school about the theme of the day. And basically, any topic is okay with them, as long as it includes coloring, paper, (glitter)glue, and stickers. Those are, by far, everyone’s favorite item.  

I always try to include some reading material, and poems are an excellent resource for that. Where would I be without the internet to find suitable resources? 

More or less connected to bullying is acknowledging and celebrating diversity. I found a wonderful poem about crayons. How dull and boring the world would be if we only had one color to choose from.  

I talked about the fact that my skin color is almost opposite to theirs, and even brown skin has all different shades of brown. Being different is fantastic; it is what makes us unique and special. After a few children read the poem out loud, the assignment was to use a journal page of your favorite color, stick the poem on one side, and use the other side to write why you are unique. 

Full concentration
What if you do not feel special? 

I am always amazed by the total commitment with which the children dive into their assignments. I walk around, ask questions, and look at their work. No matter what it looks like or how they work, I always encourage them to use their unique creative skills. By complementing them, they know I see and hear them for who they are and their way of expressing themselves. Most children wrote beautiful things like, I am unique because I am smart, I am beautiful, strong, etc. 

Walking around is also an easy way to see if a child struggles with either the materials or, more importantly, the assignment itself. This time a quiet girl was struggling to get started. I mean, she had glued the poem on the journal page, and that is where it stopped. After a bit of encouragement, she seemed to get the idea and started writing.  

I am bad

My heart broke when I read the words she wrote; I am bad. I do not know her background, yet I am sure someone makes her feel this way. Maybe this is what she hears all the time. Or what she believes to be the truth about her. Whatever causes her to feel this way, it is not true. Squatting down next to her I started talking. I did not directly address what she wrote; I asked her if she felt she was special. She shook her head, and trust me, my heart sank. Here is this precious and beautiful child, who is 8 or 9 years old, and she does not feel special at all. 

I asked her what her favorite subject is in school and told her she is special because she is good at that. My next question was if she had a puppy at home, and does he wag his tail when he sees her? You see, you are a special friend to your puppy. She seemed a little more convinced that unique can mean different things and started writing and drawing.  

Look at me Ms. Marieke
The smile that made my heart sing.  

I have given up the idea of keeping all the artwork till graduation a long time ago. Almost every child wants to take their work home. Instead, I take pictures of the artwork and the proud artists. Even though she was a little shy at first, I was so happy to see this particular child showing off her work to me with a smile. I am purposely not posting her picture, as it is not important at all.

However, what is essential is that she felt seen and heard in her struggle. Hopefully, she will remember that she is special, no matter what the world around her shows or tells her.  I will never stop showing children that your background or circumstances do not define who you are. You are fine, just the way you are. This is more or less the same message I told my 6-year-old self in my last Blog.

That is what the Breadfruit House Dominica Foundation stands for, inspiring children to become empowered adults. And you can help us do that, one child at a time, by donating USD35. And donating is easy, simply click here to find the various ways of donating on our website 

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See you on my next Blog.

Love from the Nature Island, Marieke


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