the fine line between harmful and helpful – jb

The last week at Kunzugu about half of the class did not attend the program. We saw some of the students outside of the class, and even though we encouraged the students to come, they didn’t come. I was feeling really disappointed by this, and I felt really surprised because the students that were picked for the program are considered leaders in their schools. I’m also surprised because Kunzugu School has participated in this particular program in the past. I wonder if last year attendance was an issue? Delfina has told us that this is because some of the students are done school and live far away, and because of language barrier. I know that this is likely the case, but I’m finding it hard to remove myself from the equation; I have a feeling that we could have done something to improve the attendance rate. For the students that have continued at Kunzugu I am noticing a change in their willingness to participate in the classroom. The students at Kunzugu were shy at first, especially compared to Sazira School. However I imagine this was because of language, and not a reflection on the students willingness to participate. Delfina has said that our interactive classroom style is very different than the ways the students are taught at school, so I imagine this is also an adjustment as well. I believe the way we have been conducting our classroom encourages the students to formulate their own thoughts and opinions about the material we are presenting to them. I believe they have done a really good job at this.

At Kunzugu one of the students asked the question box “Why are you teaching us bad things?” My heart actually felt really heavy when I read this question. The combination of this question and the lack of attendance at Kunzugu has been quite bothersome to me. We were asked this the day that we practiced using condoms. We also handed out condoms to them this day as well. I think I have been feeling upset because the last thing I want is to make the students feel as though we are imposing our beliefs and cultures on them. I understand how some of the students perceive our intentions as encouraging sexual behaviours, but this is not what we are here to do. Our intention is to inform our students about sex (correct condom use, male and female reproductive systems, HIV and STIs, etc), and to get the to explore if they are really ready to engage in sexual activity. A part of me worries that the students have not been attending because of the subject material. The last thing we are doing is encouraging them to have sex, and I’m worried that somehow our intentions have been lost to the students. I am also terrified that our intentions have come off as the typical colonization approach that has been so harmful to people in the past. I don’t think this is what we have done at all, but it really opens my eyes to how easy it is for people to forget about the population they work with (I think about residential schools, and the 60s scoop in Canada).

This has been a significant part of my learning experience here, and I hope to explore this issue in a development and social work context a bit more. I work with a vulnerable population, and as a future social worker, I will continue to work with a vulnerable people. I feel as this issue, of imposing my culture, beliefs, opinions (and likely policy), is something I need more experience and understanding in. I need to be well informed about how easy it is to marginalize and oppress the people I work with. I’m learning there is a fine line between advocacy and help, and oppression and harm. Even with the best intention it’s very easy to harm others.



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