I strongly believe that any time you enter a community with the goal of “helping”, you should work closely with that community in determining what issues need to be addressed and how to address them.
One of the goals of my Fulbright project is to identify how the existing Hip Hop Therapy Project (HHTP) can be expanded or strengthened to better meet the needs of the children at HEALS. In order to understand those needs, I conducted group discussions with the children participating in the HHTP. During these discussions, I used games, role play, drawing, and storytelling to explore such issues as (1) the problems/challenges young people in Gulu face, (2) the priority needs of young people in Gulu, and (3) the children’s recommendations for meeting those identified needs.
I met with one group of 8-12 year olds and two groups of 13-18 year olds. Each group had approximately 10-12 participants.
I am still in the process of analyzing all of the information I collected, but I wanted to share a few highlights from my discussions with you:
• The children cited reading books, learning traditional dance, learning break dancing, playing netball, and playing soccer as their favorite things to do for fun.
• All of the groups identified AIDS, Malaria, and Lung Cancer as being the diseases of greatest concern to them. The children said that they were concerned about these diseases because they had seen members of their community suffer from them and because you can die from these diseases.
• The biggest problems/challenges that children face in Gulu were identified as: lack of school fees and scholastic materials, lack of clothes, war, poverty, death of parents, and child abuse.
• When the children were asked to draw “what a child needs to live and grow happily” and to prioritize those needs, all of the groups identified the following as being their most important needs: going to school, clothes, food, text books, school bags, pens, and shoes.
One of the things that struck me most during these conversations is the extent to which these children value education. They mentioned the following as reasons why having an education was so important to them:
“If we study, we can escape the war.”
“School opens your mind.”
“Going to school allows you to be financially independent and not have to depend on someone else to give you food.”
“It brightens your future”
The children also mentioned clothes as being very important to them. One group identified lack of clothes as a bigger problem/challenge than lack of food. They gave the following reasons for this:
“You have to wear clothes. If you walk around naked people will avoid you and you will be ashamed.”
“If you lack clothes, people can tell and they treat you differently but if you are lacking in food, only you know. Hunger is not detectable.”
“Without clothes, people ignore and shame you.”
The conversations I had with these children were very enlightening in terms of learning what they view to be their priority needs and how they would like to see those needs addressed. I am now in the process of meeting with parents and teachers to get their perspectives. Using these different points of view, I will be able to see how HEALS and the HHTP can better support these kids. More to follow…