As a Program Officer for with Basic Needs in Kenya, I routinely check in on our Youth First facilitators across the country to provide support and supervision for our emotional resilience training.
A challenged environment for learning
Recently, as I was visiting a school in Tharaka Nithi County, I encountered Mrs. Mwatha (Not her real name). She is a dedicated teacher charged with the care of children with special needs and challenges.
The students in her class are of different ages, gender and have a wide range of disabilities. The classroom itself is quite bare. It lacks all of the necessary resources and supplies for an enriching learning experience. Students often follow the teacher around, wandering from corner to corner of the classroom.
As a result, students are idle and often bored.
Symptoms of violence expose a lot more
The particular day that I was there, Mrs. Mwatha and I stood outside the classroom chatting about her work. Even then, several of her students clung to her clothes out of habit, preventing even a moment of uninterrupted conversation.
Suddenly, a girl about 16 years of age ran to her and cried out, “Mary has knocked my head against the wall!”. Before the girl could finish recounting the event, another crying girl raced up to Mrs. Mwatha and she had blood dripping from her nose.
Exasperated, Mrs. Mwatha asked what was happening. The student replied, “Mary has punched me on the nose!”. The teacher agitatedly went to attend to the girls.
Essential teacher support = MIA
After she administered first aid, I followed up with the teacher and asked several questions about her daily activities.
I learned later that the student, Mary, has both attention deficit disorder and hyperactivity syndrome. Mrs. Mwatha revealed to me that what I had just witnessed is the kind of experience that she goes through every day.
Aside from the daily challenge of needing to be a constant disciplinarian, she feels that she and the students are not supported by the school system, and by extension, the government. The students meet in that class every day, but they engage in “nothing” since there are no materials for crafts or other handiwork skills.
Mrs. Mwatha would like to support her students with an education but feels she spends all her time maintaining order such that there is no time or energy left to do any teaching. What’s more, the situation does not seem likely to improve any time soon.CorStone’s #YouthFirstKenya program equips teachers with needed skills to foster their own #emotional #resilience. | #measurable #results Click To Tweet
A growing challenge for teachers in Kenya
That got me thinking: this teacher is working under intense pressure on a daily basis. She is unsatisfied with what she does and is demotivated by the fact that while she knows what should be done, she is completely incapacitated by a lack of support from all involved.
This causes her a good deal of stress on a regular basis. After interacting with her I was left wondering, who is considering the mental health needs of the teachers?
We spend much time considering the mental health of the youth, but who is supporting the supporters?
A real solution with measurable benefits
After some thought, I requested Mrs. Mwatha to join our Youth First training, to which she agreed.
CorStone’s Youth First Program introduces teachers to critical development concepts including:
- | Understanding one’s character strengths
- | Emotional competence to identify the causes and sources of stress
- | Negative emotions
- | Problem-solving skills like conceptualization and interpretation
- | Identification and analysis of possible solutions
- | Taking action to address the situation
The final action depends on one’s value system and the life skills that he or she possesses. This is a valuable area of learning for individuals in all manner of stressful jobs and environments.
Emotional resilience for both teachers + students
Though the Youth First Kenya project is primarily designed to help adolescent students, school teachers in disadvantaged and marginalized settings are also beneficiaries.
In teaching teachers to facilitate the Youth First resilience program, we find the curriculum also equips them with knowledge and skills to build up their own emotional resilience. While this kind of peer support may be difficult for teachers to get directly in the workplace, they can find it through their training groups.
As such, many of the teachers who have gone through Youth First training have developed emotional awareness, have become better planners and are determined to set and achieve their targets and goals.
Project activities encourage positive self-esteem, belief in their ability to solve problems and determination to support their students. I personally have seen a ‘wave’ of change that begins from within each teacher and then flows to the students, parents and those surrounding them.“The project was intended to support adolescents, but it seems the benefits are overflowing in aid of our education system. It is evident that when teachers are changed by the project, they will impact the adolescents!”
Teacher Participant | Youth First, Kenya
An outcome helping to enable positive change
Those that had no hope of things changing have become more optimistic, better able to function under stress and able to make positive choices, increasing their flexibility in stressful situations.
One such teacher has told me, “The project was intended to support adolescents, but it seems the benefits are overflowing in aid of our education system. It is evident that when teachers are changed by the project, they will impact the adolescents!”
Through these firsthand experiences, I have seen just how impactful the CorStone Youth First Kenya program has been. The resilience training within Youth First has a ripple effect within the community. You don’t have to look far to see the change it has made in the lives of those it touches.
Long Live Youth First Kenya!
Ready to help teachers help themselvesSupport CorStone with a financial contribution to change the lives of teachers and underserved communities in need by helping them find their resilience to challenge and adversity.
Jane Nungari Njuguna is a Program Officer with Inspire, Empower, Educate Rwanda | IEE—one of three partnering organizations implementing CorStone’s Youth First Program in Kigali, Rwanda.