MONTERREY, MEXICO (August 1, 2011) – The Foundation for Family Development (FUNDEFAM) recently facilitated an eight-week violence prevention program called Proyecto Cambio (Project Change) at the local junior high school.
The program involved 80 students. Erika Clauson and Claudia Garza de Behena, the program director, each worked with a group of 40 students.
“This was one of the most exciting and at the same time difficult groups I have ever facilitated,” says Clauson, an Evangelical Covenant Church missionary. FUNDEFAM is a project initiated by the Department of World Mission. Click here to read more from Clauson’s blog.
“Many of the young teenagers come from the marginalized communities that we serve and are surrounded by violence,” Clauson says.
The leaders addressed issues of abuse because one in every three romantic relationships in junior and senior high is abusive, says Clauson. Those relationships are a learned pattern.
“With many of the students coming from communities where they witness violence, either in their homes or in the streets, there is an even greater need to work for peace in their relationships,” Clauson says. “Some have dropped out of school because they’ve been threatened by the gang members to join them.”
Providing students an education is made more difficult because of the large class sizes.
“We have a lot of respect for the teachers working with over-filled classrooms and difficult group dynamics – it was evident they were under-resourced and lacked training as they often resorted to yelling at the kids in order to ‘control’ them,” Clauson says. “The students are not used to participating in the classroom, so when we asked them questions or divided them into groups for an activity, it was difficult for them and for us to know how to encourage them to share their opinions and respect one another.”
“There were times when Claudia and I would get discouraged and wonder if all this work was really worth it,” Clauson says. “We usually felt this way after a class where we discussed difficult topics, like sexuality or conflict, and there were so many disruptions from the students that it seemed like what we were doing wasn’t getting through.”
But then there were those other moments. “We would see a light in a student’s eyes, showing us he understood what we were talking about, or a student would speak and share her opinion boldly with the class,” Clauson says.
One of Clauson’s favorite moments came when a teenager named Abigail from FUNDEFAM’s youth group (who helped facilitate the class) read the poem “Yo Soy Especial” (I Am Special). “All 40 students were listening carefully and were hearing the good news that God had created them special, unique, with great worth and a purpose in this life.”
The emotional rollercoaster can be exhausting, but Clauson says, “I also trust that God used this time to plant some seeds of dignity and worth in each student that one day will produce more peaceful and healthy relationships with their family and friends and within their communities.”