Today, for the first time ever

I was consulted. You know, treated like a consultant. It was at my internship with the Baytree Centre, a community development project for young girls and women in South London…and it was positively a superb experience!

Perhaps, what incited the brief meeting was my own consulting of the supervisor on a something that took place. You see, on Monday, I experienced a situation that was rather annoying. So, here it is.

On Monday, my first full day of work, I spent a few hours helping out with administrative tasks and teaching English to a 12-year old from Brazil. Around 4pm, the main activities of the Centre commences. On any given day, the youth have classes such as “cookery”, art, “maths”, street dance, ballet, study, science, etc. Today was art. And being that it was already my first day, I was certainly qualified to lead an art class of about 20 delightfully rowdy young girls, right?

It really wasn’t that bad at all. I had prepared to introduce myself and have them introduce themselves. Where they are from, etc. And then, I would lead them into a brief exploratory study of primary colors. Followed by color study on secondary colors.

Well, I had my hands full, certainly. And, there were other volunteers to assist me in the classroom for some girls were particularly unruly and disruptive. Nevertheless, no one disturbed me more efficiently than one of the volunteers. From Hungary, she entered the class a few minutes before it was to begin with the presumption that she would be leading the class as she had in the previous year. After being reinformed, she assumed her role as assistant volunteer and I readjusted myself as leader. Already a bit negative, because in her mind the Centre was unorganized, she started to do something that I completely did not agree with.

Two girls, really one in particular, were quite rude. Not enough to be deemed extraordinarily disrespectful, but enough for me to kindly walk over to them every few seconds and reiterate the rules that they, along with the rest of the class, had decided upon before we began painting. Well, the other volunteer saw fit to discipline her quite harshly and frequently. Anger was visible on her countenance so I was certain that her disciplining was not coming from a place of love.

Well, after class, I approached her on her methodology and she quickly revealed to me her philosophy: the unruly girl is from Africa, therefore, we must use the “African strictness” that she is accustomed to in her home. I resumed consciousness after what must have been a hallucinatory moment, and shared my own philosophy: I am to address every girl equally with the same respect and expectations as I would any other person and to avoid criminalizing children at all costs, no matter how inconvenient the experience may be for me as a “teacher”. We left it alone and continued cleaning up. Myself and another volunteer, also wondered why at the end of class she was speaking ever so softly to the only girl in the class who identified herself as French/European and asked the girl what type of class she, specifically, would like to receive in the future.

Today, I decided to ask the youth coordinator, and British native of African descent, what the protocol was on discipline at the Centre. I mean, I could be wrong in deciding to treat children as people, too. As I explained the earlier scenario, she expressed similar sentiments as my own, calling the volunteer’s comment on “African strictness” absolute “rubbish”! Relieved, I learned more about the mission and philosophy of the Baytree Centre and how in the British school system, if a child is disruptive they are kindly asked to leave the class.

I told the youth coordinator that I am here to learn and that my background is not in Education. Moreover, that I am informed by my studies as a student of Sociology and so influenced is my personal views.

Shortly after our discussion, she asked to meet with me to discuss social issues. In a quiet room, she, in a bit of a convoluted fashion, shared her experiences as an Afro-British girl in London. She also told me about her own education in International Relations and Development.

And then, she sought my advice, wanting to know what the Centre could do to deal with issues such as prejudice and cultural superiority that can be characteristic of British education. Flattered, I told her in many words how I do not know if there is one answer or one way, but that my background in Sociology has afforded me a sensitivity towards biases. Furthermore, I use such awareness to raise questions and enable dialogue to address these situations as they occur.

Certainly, we have much to learn. And certainly there is much healing to be done.

I share this with you feeling as humbled as I am flattered. I do not know what my career(s) will be. But, that brief 15-minute conversation was a divine manifestation of how I would like my biographical experience and institutional education to intersect in a way that I can help those around me.

In other news, I am officially lead volunteer for Tuesday afternoon’s cookery courses. Hooray!




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