I started the Breadfruit House in 2017 to offer children in Dominica the opportunity to express themselves with the help of creativity. In a way, the children are the stars of Breadfruit House.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, inspired by the Child Friendly Spaces from UNICEF, the idea arose to set up a permanent space for children to feel safe and express themselves. This Blog will treat you to some of the cutest, most endearing, and funniest memories and pictures of our Breadfruit House sessions over time.
It was scary at first.
I still remember how powerful it felt that Goodwill Primary School agreed to host me. It meant they were willing to take a chance and believe in my idea of creativity as a tool.
At the same time, I was terrified the very first time I did a session. What if I failed? What if they didn’t like what I had to offer? What if they didn’t understand me? I did it anyway; I walked to the school fully packed and prepared. I must be honest; adjusting for the children and I took some time. The classrooms were hot and noisy, and other children started walking in because they were curious.
A valuable lesson I learned straight away is to go with the flow. No matter how carefully I prepared my sessions, it often worked out differently from what I had planned. I wrote a Blog earlier; click here to read it.
Authenticity is key.
It may take them some time to get to know and trust you, especially when you are white with a funny accent. Yet, after their initial hesitation, they all wanted to be where I was. Some of them always work standing at the desk where I sit. That’s a lesson learned. When you are authentic, children sense that perfectly, and they don’t care if you are sweaty or wear pressure socks. One girl used to wipe my forehead when I started to sweat, so precious.
I see every child for who they are, regardless of their last name or address. I want them to know that they matter, have a voice, and are worthy. And I love having them in my classroom.
A little boy once told me Ms., you need a manicure. My aunty has a salon, I can take you there. He was right, and I loved him for it. It also made me smile how he brought in clients for his aunty.
When things don’t go as planned.
Putting together the program has been a learning curve for me. There is no lack of resources online, but not everything works. My original idea was to have the children make a journal page with a different theme every week. At the end of the program, I would put all the journal pages together and give them back as a lovely memory.
That did not go as planned because they all wanted to take their artwork home. As the children are the stars at Breadfruit House, I let go of my ‘perfect’ journal idea. Instead, I enjoyed the smiles when they pose for a picture before taking their work home.
I once stumbled upon an excellent idea for story writing. Every child chooses a few lines from a pile and writes a story about it. That turned out to be a big mess. I printed way too many different lines, and everyone felt overwhelmed about having the right lines. You live and learn.
What makes you happy?
I have some small and, at the same time, unforgettable stories. Let me share a few here. There was this 10-year-old boy who was always messing about with others. Unless we did something that really interested him. His circumstances at home are far from ideal, and I tried to engage him as much as possible.
When I asked everyone to start writing or drawing what makes them happy, he told me Ms., nothing makes me happy. I felt for him; feeling that at that age is very disheartening. I told him it was okay to just draw or write something else. After about 10 minutes, standing at his desk, as always, I noticed him softly singing to himself. He looked up at me and smiled, and afterward thanked me. However small this may seem, it feels like a massive step for him because he became aware of something that made him happy.
The groups always consist of children of different ages. And often, the younger children ask me to help them spell a word. That day, a little girl asked me to spell the word teacher and all the others laughed at her. It made her cry, and I decided to address that right away.
Later, she thanked me for always being there for her, almost making me cry. The following week, we discussed bullying and giving compliments. I shared that I was bullied in school for being too white, which is not a nice feeling. I turned it around by having them compliment Fred, a man with odd clothes, unmatched socks, etc. Another seed was planted.
Coming out of your shell.
When you experience abuse, it can make you very introverted and cautious. One reason I want a small group is so I can pay genuine attention to each child. This particular little boy, who had been abused, was quiet, never spoke up, and was guarded.
He did his work very meticulously with attention to detail. I always made sure I talked to him about what he was creating. Over time, I slowly saw him coming out of his shell. And a few years later, I met him in a different setting. He wrote about how the hurricane had affected him and his home. I felt so proud of him when he stood before the group, read his story, and showed his drawing.
His teacher told me it is because of you and the Breadfruit House program that he has regained trust in himself.
Too many to share.
There are, of course, countless stories like this. Where small steps are taken, almost invisible to others, yet very significant for the child. Those small steps make a difference for every child in the program.
The same is true for me. I have grown with the children and the program. I learned, and still learn, what works and what doesn’t.
I know they love the Breadfruit House song, which often goes on repeat when we feel the need to move around. If you are curious, you can listen and dance to it here.
Wall of fame.
I see the children in the program as the stars of Breadfruit House. So, a tribute is in order. Below are some of the names, first names only, and in no particular order. And these are by far not all of them. That list would be way too long.
Here we go: Seriah, Dujean, Kiabi, Maique, Nathaniel, Nevon, Adeller, Dyon, Quine, Enzo, Khalid, Cherise, Krislyn, Abigail, Niall, Curin, Dyon and many, many more.
We celebrate them all, the beautiful artwork they make, the messages they put in the gratitude jar, their hugs, their hello’s, and goodbye’s. Their whispers that they want to stay with us forever, listening to them walking up the steps to the ‘nice white lady’. It makes it all worthwhile.
I am proud, proud of the children, proud of myself for pulling through even when we hit stumbling blocks. And incredibly proud of you, our supporters and sponsors. You make it possible to continue being there for the children in Dominica.