Birth of the concept of study club & teen club meetings
UNICEF has ensured that access to care, support and treatment for the entire HIV population especially children and adolescents amongst its many other interventions is in its prime. Today there are numerous interventions already carried out and many still going on that have brought positive results. It has been understood and accepted that even the best of clinical interventions will not help beyond a point if not assisted with psycho social interventions. Therefore it was necessary to create a platform for bringing positive children and adolescents together in each of the 5 UNICEF focus districts.
UNICEF and Network of Maharashtra by people living with HIV & AIDS (NMP+) has been working in a very fruitful partnership with respect to HIV positive children and adolescents. Keeping the above issues in mind, Study Clubs and Teen Clubs were conceptualised and rolled out by NMP+, supported by UNICEF for children (10-14 years) and adolescents (15-19 years) living with HIV. Meetings were to be held of selected children in these clubs. This creation of a ‘safe space’ has been a Pilot Project, the first of its kind, where not only children and adolescents were to be addressed but even parents/ care givers also via an orientation. The meetings were to be carried out for a period of three months. Post three months, there was to be an Experience Sharing and Review Meeting (ESRM). NMP+ could then continue to carry on these meetings for the coming months.
- Objectives behind Study Club Meetings
- To empower HIV-positive children to build positive relationships.
- Improve their self-esteem and acquire life skills through peer mentorship and adult role-modelling and structured activities.
- Ultimately lead to path of improved clinical and mental health outcomes for a healthy transition into adulthood.
- Objectives behind Teen Club Meetings
- Strive to give each teenager the opportunity to normalize their social experiences and to enhance their positive outlook on life.
- Introduce the concept of life skills to adolescents.
- Think about an expansion of these Teen Clubs further to involve peer support groups from other areas and network with them to get together to organise much bigger programmes for positive teenagers.
- NMP+ identified positive children between 10-15 children between 10-14 years of age and 10-15 adolescents between 15-19 years of age from Sangli, Latur, Nandurbar, Yavatmal and Chandrapur. These children and adolescents became Study Club and Teen Club members.
- 2 people having an experience of working in the field of HIV/AIDS and adolescents were selected from each of the districts to serve as facilitators who would be conducting these meetings with children and adolescents.
- Facilitators underwent a three day training to enhance their skills of dealing with children, adolescents and their parents/caregivers.
- Separate orientations of parents/caregivers of children and adolescents took place to make them understand how their children could benefit from such clubs and why they should be encouraged to come for every meeting. Consent of all the parents/caregivers was taken prior to commencement of any activities.
- Separate orientations of identified children and adolescents took place first to make them understand the concept of Study and Teen Clubs. They were explained the concept of study and teen clubs and what they could learn from these clubs.
- This was followed by actual Study and Teen Club meetings taking place every month in all 5 UNICEF focus districts for three consecutive months.
Training of facilitators
A two day training of all facilitators from all 5 UNICEF focus districts was carried out.
Objectives of the Training:
- Understand the mind set of caregivers/parents of children & adolescents and then children and adolescents themselves.
- Understand the concept of Study Clubs and Teen Clubs.
- Serve to be good facilitators for every Study and Teen Club Meeting scheduled hereafter.
Outcomes of the Training:
- Facilitators were able to relate comfortably with parents/caregivers of children and adolescents.
- Facilitators were more aware of fears, anxieties, unexpressed hidden desires that children and adolescents faced. Facilitators devised ways in which they could assuage these fears and anxieties when dealing with them.
- Verbal and non – verbal skills were revised and enhanced, power of self expression was explored, self inhibition was tackled, documentation skills enhanced and crisis intervention strategies were discussed.
FIRST STUDY CLUB MEETING
First study club meeting took place at all 5 UNICEF Focus Districts namely, Sangli, Latur, Nandurbar, Yavatmal and Chandrapur. Trained facilitators conducted the meetings.
All the children gathered for the first meeting started the meeting by playing an ice breaking game. Chits of paper with cow, crow, dog, tiger, elephant and cat were distributed within the children. There were two chits with the same name of animals mentioned above. Children had to make the sound of the animal that they had got and find their partner. Once this exercise was done, all the children sat with their partners. The two children then had to talk to each other and find out about the other person and what was his favourite food to eat. Children had fun in finding their partners. Their initial shyness disappeared once they got involved in the game and started searching for their partner. All the children then sat in a circle with their partners and in this manner all children introduced each other.
Knowing Myself and Understanding Myself
This being the very first meeting, it was important by starting with what children knew about themselves and how they understood themselves. Through this session, various important questions like why I am different, what is important in me, what skills I possess etc. were put forward to the children. The objective of the session was to make children feel that they were in no way different and should not feel guilty about their status in any manner. Each child was asked to list two reasons why he thought he was different.
Some Responses given by children:
- I am sick and visit the doctor often
- My mother/granny says I am different
- I have HIV
- People do not want to talk to me
- I have to take medication everyday
- I cannot play rough games
- I am smaller in size than others
- I do not talk much and mix with other people
- I do not go and play with anybody
- My brother tells me I am
Children were then explained why they had to take care of themselves and not exert themselves beyond a limit, why they needed to go to a doctor, needed to take pills every day, if people did not want to talk to them then it was because they did not understand and the child was not to be blamed for it at all.
Children were then asked if they were sure that their parents loved them. They all replied in the affirmative. This point was emphasized that no matter whatever they had or however ill they were, parents/caregivers would always love them. In fact they would love them more but never less. Children should never forget that they were special and always be loved.
Each child was then asked to name one thing that that they liked about themselves.
Some Responses given by children:
- I am a good friend
- I am good in sports
- I can draw and paint
- I am a good dancer
- I help my grandfather
- I can say poems very well
- I do good acting
- I can sing
- I can make a paper rose
- I am a fast runner
Children were then pointed out that each child had special skills and they were what made each child special. Each child was to understand that these were skills specifically possessed by each child.
Children were then asked what the word ‘Trust’ meant to them.
Some Responses given by children:
- When my friend does not tell my secrets to anybody
- My friend will not lie to me
- Someone will do as I say
- I trust my parents
- Trust means reliability
- Trust means faith on someone
- When someone believes in everything you say and do not laugh at you.
- When someone helps you when you are in trouble.
- Be relaxed with somebody
- I will listen to what that person tells me
Children were made to understand that trust was very important in one’s life. Children had to gain trust of others and also learn to trust others. Here the biggest issue of trust was when one wanted to tell a friend about an illness. It was important that this issue was not discussed with others as in case their friend was not able to keep this important secret with themselves, then this would lead to further problems. It was suggested to children that prior to them telling other friends about their illness, they should once discuss it with their parents/ caregivers. If they agreed, then the children could tell their friends. Otherwise children would break the trust of their parents/ caregivers which should not be the case.
Children were asked what they wanted to do in the future and what goals were they planning.
Some responses given by children:
- I want to become a teacher and teach everybody and give information to them like you are giving us.
- I want to see my parents happy so want to earn money that they are not sad anymore.
- I want my mother to stop working so then I have to earn a lot of money.
- I want to learn to speak good English like you all speak.
- I want to have my own hotel.
- I want to have lots of toys to play with and all my friends.
- I want to play the whole day.
- I want to study and become a big man.
- I want to become a collector.
- I want to be a doctor.
In order to achieve anything in the future, the children were asked what the most important thing they had to do. All replied that studying was most important. The facilitator then explained children needed to focus on studies first. Children should not be missing a single class due to any pretext. Children promised that they would not miss their classes and would be studying. The session ended here with all children understanding that it was okay to be different and that did not make them any inferior to anybody. In fact their skills made them even better than others. They needed to study and work hard to get ahead in their lives and achieve whatever goals they had. Without education, there was nothing to be done.
Power of Expression- How to Express Oneself
It is seen that often children do not express what they feel. They will either become quiet and go in their shell or cry. But they will not be able to relate what exactly they are feeling and why. This interactive session was a means to teach them how they can express themselves in a positive manner so that they are able to say what they want to say and also make people listen to what they have to say.
Children were asked to name a few emotions.
Some responses given by children:
- Crying and laughing
- Angry and sad
Once the children mentioned these emotions, the facilitator then asked the children to think of some situations which made them either angry or helpless.
Some responses given by children
- When my father does not let me go out with my parents I feel helpless.
- When my mother does not give me money to eat what I want then I get angry.
- When my friends fight with me, I feel very helpless and also feel like crying.
- When my parents fight I feel helpless and angry.
- When I cannot go to play with my friends because I fall sick I get angry.
- When I have to take medicines every day I get angry.
- When I see the way our relatives talk to my mother I get angry.
- When we had to change our house and go and live elsewhere I was very angry.
- Why am I always sick?
- Are these medicines helping me at all?
Very often the children did nothing when they felt this depressed or angry and just tried to ignore it. But they did agree that they then fought with their parents grandparents, siblings and then cried. They also did not eat, pushed things and basically become very difficult to handle. The facilitator then explained to the children how they could express their anger and then feel better and not fight with anybody. Each child was then to think of one incident which made them very angry and then just bang the empty plastic bottle on the floor given to them. This way they removed the emotion from their heart. After this they would not feel upset and no longer remain angry. This could also be done by going out in the courtyard and picking up a pebble or a small stone and throwing it forcefully on the ground at the side so that no one is hurt. This would make the children feel better and there would not fight with their parents after that. When the children tried this, they felt much better. They understood that fighting with parents/caregivers who took maximum care of you and listened to everything you said was not correct. They were also taught how they could talk to their friend by examples and say what hurt them. In this manner, children from a young age will always have an open and honest communication with everybody. Through role plays, facilitators demonstrated how children could solve their problems with their friends and with adults. If children could not talk to elders, then they needed to talk to their friends and remove the frustration and helplessness that they felt so that they felt better.
Ability to Build Strong Relationships
Through this session, children discussed what relationships meant to them, did they understand relationships and how could they develop good relationships in the future. The meaning of the word ‘relationship’ was explored. Facilitators discussed the importance of relationships in one’s life. Every child had a relationship with somebody like mother-child, brother-sister, uncle-aunt, friendship, two friends, etc. Facilitators taught us how relationships taught about behaviour, language, thinking, contributions and such when dealing with different relationships. Children agreed that their relationship with their parents was not the same as that with their friends.
Children were divided into two groups. Newspapers were given to them and they were told to cut the newspaper in as many pieces as they could. Both the groups cut up the newspapers in as many pieces as they could. After this, the children were then asked to join pieces that were mixed up to make pictures that they had cut. The children laughed and said that it was not possible to find the same pieces to make the picture again as all the pieces of different newspapers were mixed. The facilitator then explained that just as it was not possible to join back the pieces, similarly it was difficult to join back emotions and deal with breaks in a relationship. Relationships were fragile and one person be it child or adult had many relationships in his lifetime with family, friends, other relatives, associates, colleagues etc. These newspapers given to children were similar to relationships. But every time the child was tearing a part of the newspaper, they were doing something to the relationship. Similarly it was up to them to understand how we should deal with their parents/caregivers and the rest. Once they tore up a relationship, it would be difficult to put it back. Some children admitted that they did not see things from the others point of view. They all agreed to be better friends and respect what their parents did for them and not say hurtful things to them. Though young in age, if children learnt to cope with difficult situations from now, it would benefit them in the future and everyone would praise and appreciate their conduct and manner of talking.
Before ending the meeting, the facilitator asked the children what they would want to do before the wrap- up. There was singing, poetry recital and drawing done.
Some feedback from children:
“I enjoyed my day very well today and will surely come back the next time. I loved playing and talking to the others.”
“I did not like talking about my anger at first, because I know that I get angry many times, but at the end of the session I felt nice.”
“I have made many friends today, I like all my friends. They all play with me and there is nothing to hide from them.”
“I will go and say sorry to my mother as I fought with her yesterday.”
“I will not be angry with everybody now. I will throw my anger away.”
“ ‘Dada’ and ‘Didi’ both explain things very nicely and do not get angry with us also. If I have a problem, I will talk to them next time as well.”
“I want to get my friend here next time.”
“Please tell my mother to come here next time or send me with someone so that I can come.”
“‘Didi’ explained why we should talk to people. I will now talk nicely to them.”
“I felt good when ‘Dada’ told us that we are special and should not feel bad.”