Since November, The Charis Project has been hosting a series of classes on Friday evenings at our local community center, Thit Yeik taught by the lovely Sia, a local social worker. In Burmese, Thit Yeik means “Shade Tree.” This name was chosen by Thit Yeik’s director, partially due to the plethora of tall trees on the property, which provide shade to the house and yard, but also because she wants the center to function as a place of rest and respite for families who need a break from the heat of the day, both figuratively and literally.
Many of those in the communities we engage with have experienced, and continue to experience, war violence, displacement, lack of citizenship, physical and sexual abuse, domestic violence, the loss of one or more parent, divorce, and malnutrition. Their days are often full of the heat and challenge of life, and a little bit of shade, rest, and love go a long way to restoring their individual souls, their family relationships, and their communities.
On the first Friday, the group was given a list of topics that they could cover, and the students overwhelmingly chose child development/parenting. Those attending this class have spent months learning about the developing brain of the child, the psychological and physiological reasoning behind why children behave the way they do, and appropriate responses to undesirable behavior. Many of them spend long days working in the field, caring for their families, or working as housekeepers before coming to the class on Friday evening. Yet they show up ready and eager to learn,many with their toddlers and babies in tow. In an environment where violence toward children is the norm this is very significant.
During one class the students divided into groups and were given a scenario. It involved a child or groups of children who were demonstrating undesirable behavior. They were to think about what might be the developmental reality affecting the child and then devise an appropriate response. The groups then presented their scenario, as well as the reasoning behind the behavior and their response, to the rest of the class.
The presentations were very thorough and dynamic. As they taught the material, in their own words, their classmates nodded in agreement. These women work hard everyday to feed, clothe and house their families. They could have been doing many other things with their Friday evening, but they chose to be here, under the Shady Tree, to receive this new knowledge and to apply it to their families.
An older woman shared enthusiastically. With a couple missing teeth and holes in her clothes, her appearance might elicit the stereo-type of an uneducated person in need of a hand-out. However, the strength of her voice and the certainty of her words showed her to be a community leader, able to educate and lead.
After one group presented, one of the many toddlers crawling around the room was pushing the button on the water cooler to make the water flow out. Sia pointed out that this behavior actually shows the intelligence and developmentally appropriate curiosity of a child her age. If she pushes the button, the water comes out, but does it work every time?
She went on to explain that if a child receives an immediate angry response of either yelling or reactive hitting for such behavior, she will learn that it is bad to be curious, to explore her environment, and experiment with her surroundings. As the parents in this class understand their children’s behavior, they can begin to overcome generational cycles of using anger and reactive hitting to train their children.
In the last two weeks, the teachers have moved onto teaching the students about the effects of trauma on children. As many families in the community have experienced trauma in various forms, it is very important for these parents to be aware of the effects these situations can have on their children.
This information empowers parents to be able to help their children, as well as themselves, to cope with these traumatic experiences in healthy ways. Rather than continue some of the dysfunctional generational cycles that exist, such as addiction, abandonment, or violence, they will be encouraged to choose appropriate responses. In this way, these parents and their children will be stronger and better equipped to remain intact despite difficult circumstances. This class is just another way that Charis is working to strengthen families and help them to stay together.