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22/04/15 Issues

Acceptance before change

The Dream Outdoor experiential camps are 4-days of an intense transformative experience for young people, volunteers and facilitators alike. Through activities such as trekking, camping, outbound activities, workshops and arts, the young people develop life skills such as problem solving, decision making, choice-making, team-skills and leadership.

In every camp, there are the bullies and the quiet, shy ones. There are those that are natural leaders waiting to shine at the first opportunity and those that are on the fence. There are those that charm the facilitators and those that struggle to even participate. Over the years, Dream A Dream facilitators have built the skill to recognize young people and create a safe space that will help them move forward to where they wish to. 

In one such camp, I met a young man named Maruthi. He was tall, well-built, handsome with beautiful soft eyes. He was the leader of the group and a rebel from Day 1. He and his gang were constantly pushing the facilitators boundaries, testing us, provoking us to take action against them. Back in school, they were used to constantly being reprimanded, warned and punished. Punishment did not scare or deter them. Unconsciously, they were testing our boundaries. They were surprised that there was no disciplining, no punishment and no coercion. There were goals for the camp and community agreements to help all of us work together as a community to achieve the goals. The community agreements were followed by facilitators and volunteers alike. When community agreements didn’t work, the community spoke about them and re-committed to them. The facilitators role modelled empathy, trust and positive reinforcement. Initially, they taught it was fake but by Day 2, they realized we were authentic and genuine.

If they didn’t wish to participate in a workshop, we were ok with it but they had to make a choice to do something with their time. If they wanted to be the first in line to eat, it was alright for when they finished earlier, they could help serve others and clean up the kitchen. There was no one ordering them around and the facilitators ate with them, cleaned up together after them, kept time and most importantly showed authentic care. 

On Day 3, a youth-led day at the camp where young people lead the camp for a whole day, Maruthi chose to be the Lead Facilitator. He didn’t believe we would really give him the power to lead and facilitate a whole day at camp. We did. He thought he could use bullying to get work done. It didn’t work. He had to rewire himself. He was smart, had observed the facilitators over the last 2 days and picked up a few traits that worked - being participative in his decision making, being inclusive, listening with empathy, creating a safe space for learning and it began to work. At the end of the Day, Maruthi was transformed. He longer needed to be the bully to gain popularity or to have his way. He had found the way of love and empathy. 

Something else that was unaccepted and remarkable happened. The quiet one, the shy ones, the ones with fear, ones with low confidence started finding their voice and their feet. They started coming out of their shell with confidence and certainty. They felt safe to come out of their comfort zone and strive for new learning. 

A beautiful insight emerged for us, as facilitators, from Dream A Dream. When we shut off the bully, the loud ones, without understanding what causes that behaviour, it makes the space unsafe for the quieter ones. They further go into a shell and refuse to come out. Anything new for them is a huge step forward and when they fear that they might be reprimanded or punished for crossing the bridge, they just don’t do it. However, when we used trust and empathy to channelize behaviour towards positive outcomes, to encourage creative risk taking and to acknowledge authenticity, it hugely encouraged the uncertain participants to also attempt the impossible within their learning zone. 

The approach helped us create a transformative experience across all 40 participants at the camp with different behaviours, diverse challenges and multiple learning levels. Empathy and trust works for all young people, irrespective of their behaviours. When facilitators are consistent with all young people, it helps young people feel safe and attempt to take on creative challenges relevant to them. 

Before we attempt to change behaviour, we have to learn to accept, respect and appreciate young people for who they are. 

By Vishal Talreja