This summer Taller de paz was filled with many memorable moments and laudable achievements, in other words, many things to write about. However, I would like to bring to the forefront of all these moments a new and important development for the program and one that really stands out in my mind. Due to the level of parent enthusiasm for our program we encountered last year, we returned to Bogotá this summer with the goal of creating a committee of parents of Taller de paz which would seek to engage those parents in the process of developing the program, facilitate their participation in our events and activities when possible, and also to act as a social support network outside of our program for the families themselves.
So beginning with the "bienvenida" that we held for the new and returning families, we began to advertise that we wanted to create a space for parent integration and participation in the form of a committee. We intentionally defined the purpose of the committee very vaguely, because we wanted to hear the unadulterated input of the parents and allow them to determine the goals and direction of the committee.
After our first meeting, which had been scheduled for the weekend after the close of our first week of classes, we realized that probably the biggest problem we were going to encounter in this effort was scheduling. The overwhelming majority of parents, who had employment, worked either 6 or 7 days of the week and those that didn't were constantly busy job searching or taking care of their families. This meant that we would only have about one chance every week to meet. These first meetings initiated conversations to brainstorm ideas for the purpose and functioning of the committee. We were able to hold three meetings during the time of our classes; because of scheduling difficulties different parents came to each one (a total of about 16). Although this meant that for us each meeting was a repeat of the same agenda, it actually worked out well because each group generated different ideas, which we were able to combine at the end.
The main ideas that were generated during these first three meetings were as follows:
- To Organize and facilitate the participation of parent volunteers
- To support better communication between the talleristas and kids during the interims
- To create some kind of talleres for theparents themselves
- To identify specific academic issues kids might have (with each parent) and addressing them appropriately
- To task TdP (organizers) to find other extracurricular opportunities for the kids
- To write diagnostic evaluations that might help regular teachers understand one of our kids better (middle and high school classrooms in Bogota are typically of 50+ students so one could imagine there’s not much time to be lent to understanding individual children and figuring out how to best communicate with and teach them.)
- To Assist with curriculum development
- To Support our kids to graduate high school and seek opportunities, if possible, for them to continue their education afterwards
- To appoint presidents for the committee
- To have reunions for the kids to be able to see each other between talleres
At the graduation event, the close of the program, a group of parents who had attended the first meetings spoke to the rest to explain the importance of being able to meet as a whole group and to ask all the parents if another final meeting were scheduled to please make whatever sacrifice was necessary to attend. And so we were able to convene one more final meeting, to be held before the exposition of all the work done by the kids during this summer that we had planned to hold at a community center in Suba during the next weekend.
Tangible progress was not made until the last meeting to which about 20 parents (almost all) attended. This was a breakthrough moment for the establishment of the committee because it served as a forum to review all the ideas that had been generated in the previous meetings and receive feedback and criticism about them. It was also very important to have everyone collected at the final meeting because everyone was available to approve any future plans of the committee which is what the majority of the meeting dealt with. First, it was decided that in order to maximize the utilityof the committee, it made sense to plan immediately for what could be done to unite the kids while we were gone, since to the parents it seemed that the relationships that the kids had built amongst themselves was one of the major benefits of the program and that it should continue if possible. After another parent proposed the idea, it was decided that all would attempt bring the kids together by having one outing the last Sunday of every month in some sort of community space where the kids could see each other. It was also decided that the parents committee should continue to meet as much as possible, because it was important to the parents to maintain contact with the other families. By getting to get to know the other parents better, as someone in the meeting mentioned, there was tremendous opportunity amongst themselves to help each other out, from sitting kids to helping find employment. It was also pointed out that some families were newer to Bogotá than others, so it made sense for those who had experience in the city to help newer arrivals out. Hence a meeting amongst solely the parents was also scheduled for the second to last Sunday of each month, in order to be able to plan the reunion of the month as well as to create a space for mutual support and communication amongst all the families. In order to facilitate these plans, as a group we elected three co-presidentas. Three mothers, Gloria, Yesenia, and Luz Estela, (see Gloria left and Luz Estela right in the picture) all of who were very active in the meetings that they had attended, offered themselves to take on the responsibilities of organizing future functions of the parent's committee, while we were to be gone. The date and time for the first parent's meeting in August was promptly decided upon.
Needless to say, it was extremely gratifying that all of this occurred with very little input from ourselves. This was the best any of us could have hoped for. That our parents would take the responsibility to make whatever sacrifices necessary to create a space while we were gone in which the kids could interact, all while the families got to know each other better on their own terms and that the families themselves continue to support one another in what ways are possible.
For now, that's everything. Stay tuned for news of the first independent parent meeting and "get-together" at the end of august, hopefully we will also be able to post pictures.