25 persons aged from 13 to 70  turned up when we announced that there will be a meeting for those interested in volunteering.  Several of them also brought along the children who were under their care. The children entertained themselves as they left their care-givers to deal with adult matters. Although everyone was living in the same neighbourhood it was the first time several who turned up would be speaking to each other. So we broke the ice with the children’s game “Blow Wind Blow.”  Being more accustomed to working with children and youths, we initially thought that we had made a mistake with the ice-breaker.  Young people would usually be zooming pass us whenever we shouted “Blow Wind Blow” but this time it looked to us like we were watching a slow motion video recording  of the game. But really, it was an absolute delight to be part of the sporting and respectful way participants played the game.  Participants were most encouraging  whenever the more mature among them took  their own sweet time to change places. Soon everyone was laughing with each other the way friends do.

 

Ground rules to guide group meetings are always important and  we took a multi-step process to have them laid out.  We distributed some paper hats we had prepared earlier and asked participants to write on the hats,  the roles that they generally play in their lives.  A colleague led the way by sharing that she was a daughter, sister, a wife and a community worker at Beyond. After everyone had followed suit, they took turns to describe to the entire group what these roles meant to them. When that was over, our colleague asked everyone to throw away their hats. She explained that in the next hour, participants should be speaking to each other from a common position and not from the position of community worker, neighbourhood leader, a respectable grandfather and  so forth. She then asked the group if they knew what that common position could be.   It did not take very long for participants to catch on as one of them quickly offered an answer. “We are all human!” he exclaimed.

 

This led us to give out large sheets of paper for them to elaborate the meaning of being human. A proud father put the paper on a table and placed his 1 year child on it. With a marker, he drew the outline of his child and said that he would like to list the qualities of a child as he felt that a child represented everything that was humanly good.  The group then filled the outline of his child with words such as “love, trust, care, share, loyal, generous, compassion, concern, listening” and so forth.  Hence these words became the ground rules for discussion.

 

Our colleague  got the discussion rolling by asking “What motivated you to come for this discussion?” A mother of 8 said that she was new in the neighbourhood and wanted to meet her neighbours while a father of 5 said that he was curious to hear what was going on in his neighbourhood. An elderly lady said that she wanted to be present for her neighbours and was willing to help in any way she could.  After hearing everyone out, a father expressed that he was concerned about the youths in the neighbourhood who were hanging around till the wee hours of the morning. He was convinced that it would only be a matter of time before they got onto the wrong side of the law dragging  the younger children with them.  While this father was genuinely concerned for these youths, the negatives he highlighted resonated with many in the group and the discussion focused on minimising the perceived harm these youths will cause.

 

A participant then put things in perspective by wondering aloud why these youths preferred the cold of the night to the warmth of their homes. He then suggested that we knew too little of their challenges to be able to comment and we should make the effort to understand more before coming up with solutions. He added that getting the  police involved would only push the youths from one place to another and soon they will be so far away that the group will not be able to reach them. The group thought that he made a lot of sense and moved on to brainstorm various ways they could reach these youths. No decisions were made and when we ended the discussion after an hour, many asked us when the next meeting would take place. We told them that it was not for us to say as they were the ones who had to take the lead in creating a caring and compassionate neighbourhood.  Our answer sat well with them and they told us that they will discuss among themselves and keep us informed when they call for a meeting after the 15th day of the Chinese New Year.  

 

That evening, our colleagues went home grateful that  25 others will now work with us  in caring for the young in their neighbourhood.  25 people who  affirmed our belief in the good that comes with being human.

 

Enjoy your weekend.

Gerard

“Live for yourself and you will live in vain; Live for others, and you will live again.” ― Bob Marley

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