A few months ago, our school linked with our neighboring school in order to create a Peer Mentor program between our 4th grade & their students with Autism. This has been a very exciting program and every week it brings me such joy to watch our kids learn, grow, and challenge themselves. They aren’t even aware of how much they will truly gain from this experience. I have a feeling it will be one that they’re always going to remember. In our last meeting, we explored some of the challenges they have experienced while working with the students from the other school. We discussed how sometimes, children with Autism may have a difficult time; they may shut down, or have an unexpected reaction to something. Our students were learning that sometimes challenges arise with new experiences, things you may not be prepared for. They were learning that sometimes you have to expect the unexpected, one of life’s most valuable lessons to learn – and now, so am I.
Around a month ago, I was informed that there’s a high demand for teachers during the time I will be visiting Ghana. I had originally requested I work with children in the orphanage, but when I heard of the need for American staff in schools, I quickly suggested I help by providing counseling/art/play therapy to small groups of students. A few days ago I heard back. I was told that art therapy is a foreign concept to the teachers in Ghana, and it was suggested that instead I teach art-with the idea that whatever therapy comes out of it will be additionally beneficial to the students. Not only did the Ghanian staff like this idea, 3 schools and 1 orphanage have indicated that they would like me to run sessions with them! When I heard this, I felt a few different ways..happy, excited and then slowly nervous and uncertain. I’ve never written a curriculum, taught art, or any class at all for that matter. I started to panic.
As I allowed more time to process this information, I realized a few things. Not only is going to Ghana going to be a new experience for me, but the whole process will be a valuable learning experience as well. The truth is, I am a planner. I like to be able to plan things in advance. I know I am going to grow through this entire volunteering experience, because I have already started to. I am learning to be open to new ideas even further than I have been before. I’m learning how to better go with the flow without being able to prepare so much for something. It’s good sometimes to have expectations, but it’s even better to have an open mind and learn things as you go- and that’s exactly what I am learning now. It’s easier said than done! Being a “teacher” for several classes is something I’ve never done before, and is not what I expected to be doing. However, I’m starting to see the positives and get more comfortable and excited about this new role. New experiences must be looked at as new opportunities to learn about yourself and most importantly, to grow. Though I am a planner, I am also an individual who thrives on challenges and this will be one challenge I am excited to take on. I’m sure the role will continue to evolve and change over time and it probably will even while I am there. I am lucky to have such a great clinical supervisor, teacher & social worker friends who are going to help me put some material together. Soon, I’ll be able to learn more about the role, like what ages I’ll be working with, the frequency and duration of the classes as well.
My passion is helping children grow and learn about themselves, and every day at work I bring that dedication to each of my counseling sessions. I need to remind myself that I always put 100% of myself in everything I do, and will be able to do just that with this program. I can’t wait to help these kids express themselves through art. I may not get it completely right. I may mess up-but that’s ok; ‘ll learn along the way. I have to also remind myself that no matter what I end up doing, it will make an impact in the lives of the Ghanian children as I have successfully done for 5 years with students at Harlem Link. In the end, underneath the anxiety of the unknown, is the realization that time spent with the Ghanian children will be amazing no matter what my role is. I’m looking forward to helping them explore their artistic talents and learn ways to express themselves through drawing, imagery, music and journaling. Who knows where it will go. What I do know is I am going to continue thinking in this new mindset because when you stay open-minded, sometimes the most amazing things can happen when you least expect it.