Apologies for the delay in posting this before the weekend – we had a busy day on Friday which we want to tell you all about!
We spent a little time after breakfast meeting some of the women’s groups as SJOG. These groups are collectives of local women who each contribute to a central fund and then use these funds to make business investments (e.g. materials to make things to sell). These women are typically caregivers or parents of the children who access SJOG services due to their vulnerability and need. We were interested to learn that, since our last visit, a few men have also been able to join these groups. It was explained that in the past men have not been allowed to join these groups due to concerns from the women that the men would not allow them to remain in control of their funds.
Our main focus for the morning was to travel with Devlin (clinical psychologist) to a local community building to close a week-long training programme with primary school teachers. This training had been organised by SJOG and SOS, an organisation which runs foster homes for orphaned children. They had identified that primary school teachers often struggle with behaviours which they find challenging in the classroom and wanted to provide a space to consider the unmet psychological needs which may underlie these behaviours. We were interested to see some of the work they had been doing over the course of the week; several flipcharts we noticed showed that their conceptualisation of people included body, mind and spirit. We noted that in the UK we often think about mind (i.e. thoughts or judgements) and body (i.e. physical health) but may fail to fully consider a person’s belief systems and spirituality.
As a closing exercise the teachers were asked to generate lists of common practice when faced with challenging behaviour and role play some of these. We noticed that listening to this feedback felt very uncomfortable at times, largely due to the strategies mainly being shaming and punitive and sometimes including the use of physical force (e.g. whipping children). One of the teachers explained that although government policy now prohibits the use of corporal punishment this continues to be a common strategy. The teachers then reflected on their perceived lack of alternative ways to ‘control the class’ and how such strategies had been used when they were children. We wondered if the large class sizes (between 60-90 children) would also impact on the ability of teachers to use more pro-active and less shaming strategies. During this conversation there was an interesting energy in the room; we observed the teachers to laugh while talking about these strategies and again noticed the use of humour in uncomfortable situations.
We were struck by the skill Devlin employed to explore these practices, specifically helping the teachers to feel understood whilst offering a psychological understanding of the detrimental impact of these strategies on a young person’s emotional wellbeing. Devlin’s validating, curious and high energy approach allowed the teachers to consider these impacts rather than become defensive. They were able to acknowledge that their own feelings of anger and frustration would often lead to more punitive strategies. By the end of the morning we identified an ongoing need for teachers to be supported in developing this understanding further while also learning new approaches to take to the benefit of the wellbeing of teachers, their classes, and individual children.
After lunch we snuck in a bit of time with the vulnerable children’s project. As we arrived a group of girls were being supported to bake some scones and we were invited to join them. On walking into the building to begin the baking we noticed that the children had removed their shoes. As we went to take ours off, they erupted in laughter and shook their heads, indicating that we, like the staff, did not need to do so. We enjoyed seeing the girls work together to make the mixture but unfortunately had to leave before we saw the finished products. As we walked to our next meeting we noticed that all of the boys were outside playing various sports; something we have noticed throughout our stay is how rarely boys and girls play together and how there are definite differences in how they spend their time.
Our working day ended with a two-hour presentation by Andy Davis, a risk management specialist from Trident Manor who has travelled with us to Malawi. Andy had kindly provided this workshop to SJOG to discuss issues around personal safety for both staff and clients. The workshop was attended by a range of senior SJOG staff from across the various programmes. It started with a light-hearted quiz which showed us all just how little attention we often pay to our surroundings, and then moved on to explore ways in which staff can be more aware of and responsive to ensuring their own and others’ safety. We are hopeful that further input from Andy will help to create a safer environment for the staff and clients at SJOG, and for our trainees and volunteers.
To relax at the end of a productive week we travelled to the shores of Lake Malawi. We’ll leave you with a picture of this incredibly beautiful place…