20200109 145347 CopyThe first workshop location was Mamalyn Elementary School. Seventeen students from 7 – 13 years of age were chosen randomly in the school to take part in our workshop using practice and theory to develop communication, listening and problem-solving skills.

The workshop started with me introducing Girl Uplift Program goals to change mindsets in children and parents through practical hands on games and skills development for sustainability. The kids were shy and looked a little afraid, hungry and tired. They were unaware I had breakfast and lunch for them. After breakfast, we started the second set of games, giving the kids opportunity to communicate with each other in their group to find the solutions to their games without adult intervention.

At that point they started to get more comfortable, as they learned from each game, yet started to adopt favorites. Most of the children needed help understanding the games, since the older ones could read and understand while many of the younger ones needed extra help, especially those who had a poorer background and struggled with reading and even verbal communication. Having a game-based approach made a major difference, as it encouraged those with certain skills to help others, encouraging teamwork and role development, while reducing the need for advanced reading skills in accomplishing the goals. On the second day of the workshop, the kids were very happy to see us upon our arrival, one reason being the expectation of having breakfast and lunch. They were more receptive than the first day, as they experienced the fun of the games while starting to “get” the concept of cultural traditions, the underlying reasons for abuse, and awareness of the importance of the values and skills to change negative habits into constructive behavior.

The children were surprisingly receptive and eager to learn the values we had introduced the previous day. The games-based approach to learning empathy, self-confidence and teamwork had already started to work its magic. An unexpected but most welcome result occurred early on the second day. One of the pre-teen girls came to me privately and started sobbing uncontrollably about abuse she had been suffering, which included scars from whipping and an open wound on her arms. She was squarely in our target group, as she had been given by her rural parents to a city-dwelling couple to care for her to take advantage of a better school system, a common practice in West Africa, and sometimes the source of physical or sexual abuse by either gender.

I could only console her and encourage her to take advantage of some of the techniques from our workshops that might help alleviate some of the issues. Unfortunately, neither the legal system in Liberia nor the larger society offers any recourse of protection to abused children, so I was left feeling frustrated, knowing the slow pace at which the new mind-sets will need to be built.

At the end of the two-day workshop, I awarded teachers and students Girl Uplift certificates for completing the first-of-its-kind program. I fell in love with the beautiful children who were happy to learn something new and work for a better future. The children requested I come back to do more workshops and bring more learning tools and games because they had such a great time with my team of moderators and volunteers.

Favorite games of the second day included our age-group version of game theory’s classic Prisoner’s Dilemma, where children and parents formed teams and learned the transactional nature of relationships; also the DAI (Dialog-Action-Interaction) game where parents and children experienced a new, more constructive approach to child-child and child-parent interactions where each end up feeling they received value for value.

At the end of each program, we had the children fill out a survey to measure the Director’s knowledge and explanations, the learning experience, the value applied to daily life, and their personal progress made in the course of the program. The overall score for the Mamalyn School program was 3.93 on a 5-point scale. Given that this was my first program with all the anxiety and opening-day jitters, I was ecstatic and grateful.