Following from our newsletter, in our most recent blog, Barbara, our Cali Field Officer, tells us more about her impressions after being invited to another Corpolatin participatory workshop. During the workshop, children were asked what they thought about Corpolatin’s outreach activities, what topics they would like to discuss during the sessions and about other services Corpolatin offers.
This session took place after lunch. Most of the children were already in class, but no
sooner did we turn up with our box full of cards and colouring pens, and when the children realized it was Corpolatin again, they started sneaking out of their classrooms to come up and greet us.
All the children lived near the school which is located next to a large “caño”, an open ditch that generally carries rain water, but in Aguablanca it becomes a mix of rain water and sewage water. As the heat of the day increases, so does the smell from the “caño”, becoming unbearable by mid-afternoon. The area around the school is very poor, and plagued by high levels of violence and crime. The school is enclosed behind high walls and a solid metal gate.
One little boy, Freddy, really stays in my mind. Freddy was the first child in the group to ask us why they were there and if it was because they were the “bad children”. Freddy didn’t know how to read or write, despite being in second grade primary. He obviously felt embarrassed about this, and did everything he could to hide this from us; taking himself off to the furthest corner “to concentrate” as he put it, but also where no one could see his extreme effort to write down an answer to the questions we asked.
When Corpolatin staff noticed that Freddy wasn’t participating, went over to where he was sitting and then realized the great difficulty he had writing. The Corpolatin staff member help Freddy find ways to express his thoughts without writing. Freddy sat and talked to the Corpolatin staff, telling her all his ideas and thoughts about the child line and the outreach activities. Freddy sat still, listened to the Corpolatin staff, frowning with concentration and choosing his words with care. Freddy’s face changed as he realized that what he had to say was important, that someone really wanted to know what he thought, and that his ideas would be taken seriously.
The next exercise was red card / green card (red for “no” and green for “yes”) and involved no writing – Freddy was the star of the group; really paying attention to each question, weighing up his answer before raising one of his cards. Freddy was in his element. He didn’t have to struggle to form letters to get his ideas across; he could give his opinion quickly and clearly.
At the end of the session, the children gathered round when would we be back, they were sad not to see us again, but happy with the fun afternoon they had had, and as they put it “chuffed” that they had consulted!
For Corpolatin and COTA, child participation starts by really listening to what children have to say, and understanding that children, especially those that experienced violence and abuse, won’t always just speak out and give voice to their thoughts, and thus it is important that we seek out ways to encourage them to do so, without fear of reprimand and in the security they will be taken seriously.
To support Corpolatin’s crucial work with vulnerable children in Colombia, please make an online donation.