“These feeling are hurting you, but you will survive, you are survivors!”
This was part of the message that the psychologist gave to the boys as they were coming to terms with leaving the island and returning to their families.
As I mentioned in the last blog there are huge changes being made in the way that Si A La Vida approaches its work with kids and families. This change has been prompted, or rather propelled, by two issues. Firstly, there is a change in the methodology within the Nicaraguan Ministry of Families. They are wanting to more away from residential centres of protection like Si A la Vida, towards holistic support for the kids within their families and communities. In theory a very good move. In practice, like many government policies the resources necessary to implement the policy are lacking. The reality is that the cost of education, particularly secondary is a very unattractive option for most of the families linked with Si A La Vida when their young person can be out working and bringing in a wage, even a small wage. The second factor is an economic one. Si A La Vida has relied, for most of its 21 years, on funding from a very passionate and committed group within the States. This group is now smaller, older and unable to sustain the previous level of financial commitment. These two factors mean change.
For the boys we have come to love, this means that they are to leave the island of Ometepe at the end of June and return to their families. Again two separate issues for the boys. The island is an oasis for them in so many ways. Not only are they provided with security offered by Si A La Vida, but they are part of the Altagracia community. They go to school here, their friends are here, their girlfriends are here, they won the soccer championship yesterday, they are part of the church here. The boys love the freedom and the security of the island. I was reading recently that adolescents need “roots and wings”. That is, space to take risks with the support to be nurtured when things don’t quite work out. The island and Si A La Vida provides this for the boys.
A group of boys arrived at our place the other night at 8.00pm, which was very unusual. “Martin, is it true that they are going to make us leave Ometepe? It’s not fair, we don’t want to go.” Can we stay here with you and Margaret for three years?” Understandably they are confused, scared, angry, and uncertain of the future away from the island.
The other source of concern and uncertainty for them is returning to their families. Some boys have no parents and are living with aunts or grandparents. Some are looking forward to being with their families, most are concerned about what this will mean for their schooling. For those who have known teenagers, you will appreciate that these boys hate going to school, doing homework is like drawing blood from a stone, and they skip classes as often as they can. Yet in all that they know the importance of schooling to lift them out of a future of poverty.
So what about the future of SALV? Si A La Vida is working with the boys over the next weeks providing group and individual psychological support. The social workers in Managua are working with their families to assist them with the reintegration of the boys. Both the centres in Managua and on Omotepe will remain, however the profile of the organisation will shift from protection to prevention. The centres will become more like a hub for specialist support (Psychologists social workers and educationalist) and also a centre providing cultural, arts, and other programs. The emphasis is on preventative programs for the families and young people in the community.
At the same time, SALV is looking to establish its financial stability for the present and plan for self-sustainability for the future. They have cut their staff dramatically. There will now be three people working in Managua and three on Ometepe (plus Mart and I). Just to let you know we are not replacing any Nicaraguans here. The board is very clear that we are here as volunteers for a limited time and are wanting to use our skills to help generate a future income source and build the capacity of the current Nicaraguan Team.
As for us!
Well we remain on the Island of Ometepe (thanks goodness!!). Mart will continue to oversee the development of the property here (21acres) to be financially more productive. He is also working on rejuvenating the Board of Directors, may of whom have been associated with the project for 20 plus years and are themselves tired. He hopes to bring on some new and inspiring people with knowledge and experience. I will work with the staff on analysing the needs here in Altagracia and developing the new program here. The Board sees the next three months as a time to identify needs within the community and the following three to develop programs and responses for those needs. We hope to have a new look Si A La Vida operating in the New Year. (Well that is the plan today;-who knows what tomorrow will bring!!)
On the whole Mart and I are doing well. We knew things here are changeable, but I have to say, there have been times when we have felt angry that we were not told of the situation prior to arriving (The Board has known that changes needed to be made for a year). We still would have come, but it would have lessoned the energy it has taken to manage the changes. We are really sad to see the boys leave and worry about their future. Over the three months we have been here they have taught us, teased us, tested us and provided a family of kids for us. They are amazing kids who, as the psychologist said, are survivors. But this survival has not come without a cost and we have concerns for each of them as they work their way though adolescents to adulthood. It is a tricky time for all of us even with a supportive family network and economic security. We think the new direction of SALV is more sustainable and is more is more progressive in theory. We hope it can be in practice as well. Yet a part of us feels that it has come at the cost of the boys currently on Ometepe.
The last few days have been very heavy and full of emotions much of which is unspoken but expressed through challenging behaviours. But there have been lighter times. As I said the boys played soccer yesterday and won their championship. They were a motely looking team, but a team of winners. Today (Sunday) we are going to the baptism of one of the boys in the project. This boy is seen by the other boys as the leader of the group. He is a great young man who is 16 and in grade 5 at Primary School. He is so determined to finish his education so he can become a mechanic. We will then have a special morning tea for him before going to have a celebration of the birthdays for this month and Dia Del Nino (Children’s Day). All of this, amongst all the emotions of the changes.
Sorry this is so log, but I felt like I need to let you all know what is happening and to answer some of the questions you are asking. If I have left you wondering, just email me firstname.lastname@example.org and I will follow it up.
Love to you all
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