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It Happens So Fast

January 23, 2012

From the Field

There is a pair of sisters we’ve taken in at SOLD. Spunky and vivacious the pair of them are, and cute to boot. Less than a year ago, I was sitting at the Resource Center watching the Disney classic, Cinderella, with them, reveling in their childlike innocence. I never dreamed how quickly that could slip away.

I’ve been on my own odyssey since I first arrived here, trying everything I can think of to challenge and motivate these kids, these children at-risk, to dare to dream of something bigger for their life, and to find what they love and to pursue it with everything they’ve got. These children haven’t been taught to imagine or question. In fact, it has mostly been drummed out of them by hardship and poor schooling. Nevertheless, we push on, hoping to catch the flicker of a light somewhere.

But the world does not rest in stasis. While I pondered lesson plans and tried to learn what would work with them and what wouldn’t, the children continued growing. Those of you who are parents know this already: how quickly children grow and change, experiment and adapt, and slip away through your fingers like so many dew drops. Turn away for a fraction too long and a different person stands in the child before you.

I returned to the Resource Center after the Christmas holiday to find these sisters so altered I barely recognized the little girls who watched Cinderella with me just a year ago. Instead of wearing school uniforms or plain girlie clothes, they were dressed to the height of Chiang Rai fashion, in short skirts and tight leggings, and the disaffected attitude of sixteen-year-olds. Except they’re eleven. This change might only have registered a raised eyebrow and perhaps a mini red flag in the back of one’s mind, if it weren’t for the fact that they’ve also gradually been dropping out of our Saturday classes. Their regular attendance has turned towards spotty, their eagerness and interest faded to zilch. The latter has been cause for concern for me for the last few months. By now, my mind is screaming danger.

Their mother is worried too. When I brought up my concerns to other staff, it has come out that one of the sisters has a boy who she seems to be getting involved with, and she has expressed the sense that she’s tired of school and is considering dropping out. She’s eleven.

Of their crowd, these girls are the popular ones. They’re big fish in a small pond, and because they’re fun and cute, they’re used to attention and relative ease in the world. It makes it easy for them to shy away from difficult work and hard choices, when the right path isn’t fun enough. It also makes them easy prey.

Being the popular ones, they may have the power to affect the other girls around them too, encouraging others to take the fast road over the high road with them.

We’re fighting like mad to be good mentors, to talk with them, to encourage them, and to inspire them. But if there are magic words, we haven’t yet found them. We are not their parents; we can exercise no control. So how do we stop them before it’s too late? What words of advice or encouragement will reach them? What can we do to help them see where different paths lead and give them the strength to choose the better one?

Falling away. It happens little by little, and yet all too fast. How do we catch them before they fall?

– Jade Keller
Education Program Manager

5 Comments leave one →
  1. nik permalink
    January 24, 2012 1:04 am

    This is a tough one Jade. Puberty doesn’t just happen to at-risk children in 3rd world countries – it happens to everyone. I remember kids my school in Vienna, Austria, who were like that – maybe not at 11, but at 12, 13. Just dying to get mixed up with the wrong crowd – trying to be grown ups in a hurry – drugs, sex, cigarettes, just can’t wait to do all of it.

    What’s the best you can do? Love them, and accept them as they are; listen to them; you can’t save them – maybe they can save themselves at some point, and maybe in order to get there they need to make a lot of bad choices along the way. Don’t judge them, and don’t abandon them. Oh and don’t let them steal your stuff 😉

    I am reading a great book on children’s education by Dr Wayne Dyer at the moment called What do you really want for your Children. I don’t know how well it applies to out of control 11 year olds – but it has a lot of good thoughts on education in general. It was written before Dyer’s transformation but I still think there’s lots of good stuff in it.

  2. January 24, 2012 8:52 am

    Oh, wow. That’s tough. Is it the parents. Is it the environment? Is it some combination of both? Boy, I wish I had a good answer for you. Just keep doing what you are doing. You may not be able to save every one, but you will enrich the lives of many others in the process.

  3. Tracy permalink
    January 24, 2012 2:00 pm

    I don’t have any ideas or suggestions other than keep doing what you are doing. These sisters and the girls in their influence group will see your honesty and consistency. One day those things will be what matters most to them. It hurts to see even one child lost but your efforts for these particular sisters may make a bigger impact on children not on your radar screen yet.

  4. January 24, 2012 5:08 pm

    I don’t have an answer to that. Living by example, maybe? Eleven is young to be dressing like that but it is happening here too, in North America. Girls, especially are hitting puberty way before they should. Good luck with that, though. I know your heart is in the right place.

  5. January 25, 2012 12:19 am

    how heartbreaking and frustrating and just plain sad. eleven is just so young still, it breaks my heart for them. unfortunately there are no magic words but keep doing what you are doing and hang in there.

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