Thursday, August 25, 2011

It Takes a Village...

The phrase, "It takes a village to raise a child" is a well known African proverb. It even was used for the title of then First Lady Hillary Clinton's 1996 book about the future of American children. One of the main ideas was that groups outside the family could have a major impact on children. 

In Francistown, there are many children who are left up to their own devices for large portions of time. They roam the streets, explore, and play games; all seemingly without parental notification or supervision. It is something that would horrify many traumatophobic parents in the US.   

It is estimated that Botswana has anywhere between 25,000 and 75,000 orphaned or vulnerable children. Current policy focuses on keeping children with their families, so many of these children end up being raised by grandmothers, aunts, or even older siblings.  

One of my secondary projects is volunteering at a local Center that does after school and weekend programs for kids, many of whom are orphaned or vulnerable, in one of the least developed sections of the city. Some of the best times I have spent in Botswana have been with those kids, as I have blogged about before (here, here, here, and here). The idea behind the programs is to provide a safe place for the kids to go after school and have fun activities to take up some of their free time. I have been tasked with running an arts and crafts program twice a week. 

Despite my complete lack of art skills, working with the kids has been great. I have big plans to do all sorts of crafts, but so far the kids have been coloring pictures from a coloring book. It is not much right now, but it's a start. It took some effort to get them to sit and work quietly, but I think they are slowly catching on. 

The other day, there was a little boy no older than 3. Whenever he sees me, he tries to take my watch but I don't know his name. He waddled into the art room and I put him in a chair then gave him a blank piece of paper and a crayon. He clearly had never seen a crayon before and just sat there, staring at it. I crouched down behind him, showed him how to hold the crayon, and then drew a simple stick man, while guiding his hand. I stood up to see if he could do by himself. The little boy brought the crayon slowly up close to his face and then rotated it, as if it were some magical wonder. He then put it back down on the paper and preceded to draw a jumbled mess of scribbles. When I bent back down to check on him, he was smiling from ear to ear. 

Soon after that, I had another boy came up to me to show me his picture. He had a colored in a picture of a truck from a coloring book. The truck was a multicolored mess but I smiled and told him in Setswana that I thought it was excellent. He smiled and shyly looked down at the ground before going back to his seat. Before I knew it I had several kids mobbing with outstretched pictures, wanted to know my opinions on their coloring skills.

I told them all they had done excellent work before sending them back to their seats. Now if only I can get them to share crayons nicely with each other...