How my WYA story started in St. Lucia

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Don’t teach them what to think, teach them how to think. A phrase short in nature, simple enough to grasp, yet indicative of a point in my life where I started to rethink all the ways I had ever been taught anything that was supposed to carry some moral gravitas.

My name is Kin-Z Francis, I am 22 years old and had the opportunity to work with WYA as they piloted the Human Dignity Curriculum (HDC)  in my homeland, Saint Lucia.

I had always been taught what was wrong and what was right but never before had I encountered a program such as the HDC that provided me with such a clear and straight forward rationale for this constant differentiation between right and wrong.

A few of us may be all too familiar with the curiosity that goes hand in hand with childhood. The whys and the why not that come from them almost appear to be endless. I must admit that upon first hearing about the content of the HDC  I was skeptical, skeptical as to whether or not WYA had been able to successfully find a way to deliver the content that would answer all of these little whys and why not, after  all, the content seemed to be the equivalent of the philosophical reasonings that take place within the walls of a university lecture room.  

After the first HDC meeting, I was delightfully proven wrong. Though the content was indeed based on deep philosophical teachings, the curriculum itself was constructed in such a way that even the smallest of minds could understand, and I was not the only one who was of this opinion.  My main task was to interview six students from each of the classes (grades 3-6), and assess how receptive they were to this new material. Well … They loved it! They loved the pictures, the music, and the videos, some had even grown quite fond of those of us who conducted these interviews. Ok, they loved the pictures and music like all kids of that age do, but did it make a difference?

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The story of one of the young girls I interacted with can help you form your own assessment of this program. When I first met her she was quiet, an obviously troubled child who was self-conscious in nature. She felt as though she didn’t fit in, and after comparing herself to others who she said were smart, sporty or gifted in arts and crafts, she simply felt less than ordinary.

I remember her particularly well because she simply refused to speak during the first two interviews. The third was a different scenario, she was actually smiling! Her teacher had done an exercise from the HDC where all the students had to say something positive about one another, and to this little girl’s amazement, everyone in the class liked something about her. Unbeknownst to her, that smile broke my heart. It was a reminder that children can be unintentionally cruel and a reminder that children at times hurt in a way that we as adults have long forgotten. I still remember what she wrote down, when I asked her why she liked the new material her teacher taught: “ I like it because before I used to think that only my parents thought I was special, but now I know everyone should know I am special, because my teacher said everyone has dignity.”

This moment was the reason I was eager to work with WYA, 4 years later as an intern. Being a victim of bullying myself, I understand the need for having an objective source tell you that you are valuable as an individual, irrespective of looks, or inability to perform in certain areas. The HDC gives young people a reason based outside of talents, that tells them why they are special. You are not special because you are good at a particular thing, you are special for the mere fact that you exist.

Working with children in a personal development capacity has always been an interest of mine. Prior to working with the HDC program, I had volunteered at the Edward C. Gartland Youth Center in the Turks and Caicos Islands for several years as one of its youth leaders. The young boys and girls I worked with, particularly those of Haitian descent, exhibited a thirst for learning that encouraged me to be even more appreciative of the educational opportunities I had been afforded- ask them to read a page and they would read a book. It was they who encouraged me to briefly to conduct an after-school reading program at the Maranatha High School.

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I must admit that the HDC was the jolt needed to give new life and a brighter spark to my already existing passion for volunteerism. It gave me the incentive to want to establish an educational program suited to the needs of young children in Saint Lucia.

Since then I have committed myself to making conscientious efforts to become more involved in activities that cater to the personal development of children so that I can learn as much as I possibly can. I have volunteered at a government sponsored camp in Barbados, and worked as a student assistant at a summer initiative run by the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill campus called UWI 101. Similar to the HDC, UWI 101 aims to give students a renewed sense of confidence in their ability to achieve what many people have told them was impossible, or re-ignite interest in a goal that several of them had let falter. Aimed primarily at high school students, UWI 101 gives students the opportunity to experience university life, in the hopes that in the future they will pursue a tertiary level education (hopefully at UWI, but anywhere would be encouraged).

At present I am in New York, a city as different from my country as ice-cream is from a bowl of pigtail bouillon, partaking in a six-month internship at the WYA headquarters. The organization will be providing me with training in human rights and diplomacy and the opportunity to work with them on the revamped HDC. After leaving WYA I hope to do many things, but of greatest importance to me is the establishment of a free summer camp, where students can partake is sports, arts, dance and other activities that they cannot necessarily afford.

By working with WYA,  I hope to learn how to make this initiative into one that caters to both the physical and mental faculties of Saint Lucian children. I want to learn more efficient methods of planning and budgeting, and the proper way of evaluating the effectiveness of my initiative, But most importantly I want to grow as an individual. I want to be more cognizant of my strengths and weaknesses. I want to reach a place of spiritual and mental maturity where I am able to fully devote myself to the service of others.

Written by Kin-z Francis, a WYA intern at the WYA Headquarters in New York.