Have you ever integrated someone new into your family? Perhaps a new in-law, or even a new child? Everyone has to work hard to make the new member feel accepted, and to make sure that other members of the family do not feel unduly displaced. Now imagine that there are four parents (the teachers), sixteen elder siblings (the 10th Standard), and sixty-two new baby siblings (the 8th Standard). This is just what we’ve been dealing with here at ALF for the past couple of months, and as you can imagine, things have been interesting. Even with the best of intentions, things don’t always go well, and there can be tears and frustration (and that’s just the teachers).
In our first few days it became apparent that we had some adjustment issues happening… 8th standard students weren’t treating our work space well, and didn’t really even treat each other with respect and kindness. One day I got talking with the 10th standard students about how we could help the younger girls understand how to behave when at ALF. First, they came up with ideas such as giving 8th standard girls black marks or rewards, and even organizing games for girls who were “good” and excluding the “bad” girls from the game, so that they might be motivated to become better. At this point the girls became quiet as they mulled over the concept of dividing their 8th standard sisters on the basis of their being “good” or “bad”. Suddenly, someone said, “Actually, they are not good or bad. They just don’t know any better about how to behave. Even we were like that when we first came to ALF. We just have to teach them the right way to behave.” Other girls chimed in to agree, and one raised the point that we couldn’t help the 8th standard learn how to treat fellow students better until we provided them with chances to bond and get to know each other.
Feeling quite humbled by how insightful and reflective these 10th standard girls are, we set them the task of designing activities that would help the 8th standard care more for each other, and exhibit better behaviours generally.
Girls divided into groups and worked on organising three things, (1) Monsoon Mania, an adaptation of the Angel-Mortal game; (2) a team-building session; (3) craft sessions between 10th standard students and small groups of 8th standard students.
For Monsoon Mania, we all had to pick someone’s name out of a hat, and send them secret messages of encouragement for a week, before revealing their identities in a small community celebration. Soon, the 8th standard students were very enthusiastic about making their notes and looked forward to receiving notes from their “secret friend”.
Whilst Monsoon Mania continued, the 10th standard girls organised team-building games for one afternoon; river crossing and a treasure hunt.
Girls were put into teams not of their own choosing, causing quite a lot of anxiety…
…but these fears quickly dissolved once they got into their team-work!
By the time this photographer got upstairs to check on how the treasure hunt was going, it was over, as the 8th standard had finished so fast! They managed to occupy themselves with a game of blind man’s buff.
At the end of the week came the finale of Monsoon Mania–when we ended classes early and girls had to reveal themselves to their secret friends, with a card and a snack. Some of the cards were really quite elaborate, and everyone enjoyed knowing the identity of their secret friend, and sharing food together.
In the weeks following, girls got to do craft sessions with their Big Sisters in the waiting time before classes started…
There is more of a sense of community now, and the girls are making better choices about how to behave. This is partly because of the passage of time (we can hardly believe our “new” 8th standard students have been here for two months now) and because of the efforts of the 10th standard girls in providing these wonderful experiences to the 8th standard students.