A group of children ran up excitedly to a colleague as she was on the way to a home visit. Dressed in similar tee-shirts, they greeted her with a big grin expecting a reaction. “Wow! You guys look so sharp and colourful. What’s up?” she obliged. Immediately the children gushed that they were now a sepak takraw team. Intrigued, she asked them to say more.
They told her that they had just begun and pointed out their coaches who were waiting for them some 50 metres away. The coaches waved and my colleague recognised them as youth who were part of a sepak takraw programme we had initiated last year. The programme was conducted by volunteer coaches and when it fizzled out, we assumed that the youth were no longer interested in the sport.
The youth beckoned the children to return and my colleague hung around a while to watch the training session. As the session progressed, the children were distracted when they could not get the hang of a drill and started wandering off. However, the youth patiently gathered them back and simplified the drill till they experienced some success. It was also heart-warming to see the youth helping the children with their shoelaces whenever they got undone. My colleague reckoned that if she did not know better, she would have thought that they were all part of the same family.
In a well-meaning way, many of us are often trying to introduce structure and programmes to young people whom we believe to be at risk of delinquency or in need of guidance. These initiatives may include uniformed groups, sport clubs, interest groups or the deployment of helping professionals as mentors who can guide and protect the youth against negative influences. These efforts are useful, but there would also be youth who rather do their own thing and we must stop seeing that as undesirable.
When I was a youth worker, “detached” or “hard-to-reach” were some terms used to describe youth who were not part of an organised group or activity. The assumption was that left on their own, youth would likely end up in trouble. The devil finds work for idle hands but we should also entertain the possibility that when young people do not appear to be doing much, they could be hard at work thinking about the good they want to do.
This chance encounter with youth we once assumed to be lacking the commitment or interest to persevere with a programme has challenged us to confront a latent bias that we do not care to admit. We tend to assume the worst of people when they drop out of our programmes. So, the next time youth drop out of our programme, we must try to discover if there is something, they would like to do for themselves. Doing so will perhaps give them an opportunity to develop in a way that being in our programme does not. In any case, placing our faith in young people’s ability to make good decisions and organise themselves may be the best thing we can do for their development.
Wishing you health and peace of mind.
Never do for others what they can do for themselves. – Saul Alinsky.