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Summer Youth Facilitation Institute Reflection: Mohamed Koko

Tue, 09/18/2018 - 10:34

This was my first year as part of SYFI (Summer Youth Facilitation Institute). And it was also my first year learning a whole lot in such a short period of time. I had one of the most amazing and thoughtful summers I’ve ever had.

I was able to learn a lot about:

  • Nonviolent communication
  • Plants and plant life by working in the garden at the Gandhi House
  • How to understand people when they are facing and going through conflicts
  • How to facilitate and lead different activities

An example of that would be practicing leading the morning circle then leading it again for the students from Columbia and Iraq. These were all great values and lessons that affected my understanding of what nonviolence is.

I was also able to understand that nonviolence could mean:

  • Being nonviolent and peaceful to plants and animals and not just humans
  • Trying to understand / respect people’s opinions even when i don’t agree with them

One of my highlights of this Summer here at the Gandhi Institute was going to the canoeing trip with SYFI and some of the Gandhi staff. It was very challenging for me but I thought it was fun to try something new and turn a challenge into a fun experience.

I am looking forward to trying to use what I learned in different fields and situations such as at home with my family or at my school. An example of that would be solving problems or disagreements between me and my brother in a more productive way.

I had a great summer here at the Gandhi institute and I’m looking forward to what’s next.

My Experience with Restorative Justice in American Schools

Tue, 07/24/2018 - 08:57

Leon, a high school student from Berlin, Germany, spent three months with the Gandhi Institute during the spring of 2018, learning about our mission and assisting us in our work.

My experiences with American schools in Rochester, New York and the great engagement of the Gandhi Institute in those schools.

I used to work in three different elementary schools in Rochester: School No. 12, 17, & 19. Two of the three months I worked in School No. 12 with Matt. Every Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday I was there between 3pm and 5pm. I liked to be there because I spent time with 5th to 8th graders and could do many fun things with them. We could go outside and have fun or stay inside and do some homework. Sometimes I did some fun things with some first and second graders.

It was great to build relationships over the two months with different students. In the end, I could have conversations with them. I also knew what problems they have and knew what they do in their free time.

Every Thursday and Friday I worked with Spero and Hoody in the Help Zone of School No. 17. The Help Zone is a room for students that offers them space to stay in if they avoid going to class, if they disturb the lessons and get sent down by the teacher, if they need to calm down when they are angry, if they want to reflect, or if they need to have a mediation and after that try again and make better decisions. The Help Zone is helpful for teachers too. For example, they have the opportunity to send students down to the Help Zone and do that with a good conscience.

Most of the time the students are in the Help Zone for about 15 minutes and they got sent down for different reasons. We would have a conversation with them and they got time to calm down. Sometimes there are bigger problems. For example, a fight between students or between students and teachers. Then it is necessary to have a mediation. That gives both parties the opportunity to get to chat with the other person(s), to speak out, and to hopefully have a good atmosphere in the end.

I liked to be in the Help Zone because I could chat with people close to my age, and I could draw or goof around with them. Sometimes I went to the the cafeteria and sit with some different classes during lunch. I had the most fun with the younger students because they were very interested and had fun asking me questions. The fact that I´m from Germany was another interesting point and they learned to speak a little German.

I also worked in School No. 19 with Matt every Monday and Wednesday with 5th-graders. The day started with a group of four students for half an hour. We invited them to check-in and talk about emotions and feelings. But the main part of the group work was funny activities. For example, we had thrown some tennis balls at a bucket. When someone would hit the bucket, they had to write down a stressful situation in school. All of us together were thinking then how they could solve this situation in the best way. That’s a good way to teach students how to handle difficult situations well. After that we mostly had some chats with single students that were similar to the group chats.

After specials (classes that happened every day), we met another group of students. A group of four chaotic boys. We chatted with them about different situations and feelings too and did some activities. Often it was more loud and more chaotic then in the other group. But it was also fun too, because they talked a lot, were creative and did funny things. After that we went for lunch and we sat with the students in the cafeteria. Mostly that was very exhausting, because it was loud and many students were running around. Sometimes there also was a confrontation between some students. It is a pity that something like that can happen so fast.

For me, the whole thing was quiet shocking at first because I´m not used to that from my school. I realized fast what the problems in the schools in the US are. I´m very lucky to be in a school in Germany, because we don’t have many of these problems. Of course my school is a little different because it is a private school. I joined the school 13 years ago and we have many wonderful projects. But I think that the education in the schools in Germany generally is supported better.

It is also way cheaper to go to college/ university in Germany, than it is in the US. I think it is very important that the government supports education because if that doesn’t happen and the younger people don’t get good education. There is logically soon a problem with jobs, state and individual debt, poverty, and much more…

My three month project unfortunately ended on June 20th. Now I´m back in Germany. I learned a lot in the time I was there about Gandhi, nonviolence, and personal responsibility. Also I met very many great people, for which it is important that there is justice, that other people feel good, and that education gets supported. These people have to work to reach that goal.

I didn’t really want to leave and I already miss the time I spent in the US. I definitely want to come back and to learn more about nonviolence. I‘m very happy having had this project, and I´m very grateful for all the people who made this possible and supported me with everything.

Bridges out of Poverty: Strategies for Professionals and Communities

Tue, 06/05/2018 - 15:22

Before moving to Rochester last August, I was working and studying in Amman, Jordan.

One of my favorite parts about life in Jordan is the culture of hospitality. Within my first few weeks in Amman I met a family and was invited to eat lunch at their house. At the end of the meal, the mother of the family asked me how the food was. My mouth was full, but I still wanted to tell her that the food was delicious. So, I enthusiastically formed a circle with my index finger and thumb while keeping my other three fingers straight.

I was a little confused because instead of being happy, the mother seemed somewhat alarmed and immediately took two steps backward. Several weeks later I learned that the same gesture I was using to say “excellent” is used in Arab culture to threaten someone. Despite my good intentions, my message of “delicious” had been perceived as “I will mess you up!”

In this situation, the mother and I were operating under two different sets of cultural expectations, or hidden rules. As a result, our efforts to interact ran into a roadblock. In order to avoid running into roadblocks like this one while traveling in other countries, many people will use a guidebook. There is usually a section in each guidebook that explains where to sit in a taxi, how much to tip in restaurants, and what type of clothing is most appropriate in different settings. By learning about these unspoken expectations, we are able to have smoother conversations, show respect for others, and navigate around potential roadblocks.

In Bridges Out of Poverty, Ruby Payne points out that these types of hidden rules are not limited only to our interactions with people from countries outside of the United States. In fact, there are very clear cultural differences that separate people within the United States. Payne writes about the differences and hidden rules that exist between people who grew up in a middle class culture, a culture of poverty, and a culture of wealth. She writes about how people in each of these three cultures often think differently about topics like money, food, personality, time, and education.

In the United States, the distinctions between these cultures become particularly important when people who grew up in one culture interact with or work with organizations that are operating under a different set of hidden rules. For example, most workplaces in the US operate using the hidden rules of the middle class. In middle class culture, people are expected to arrive on time for work and appointments regardless of other events that are occurring in their lives. Additionally, someone’s achievements or credentials are often prioritized over interpersonal relationships. By contrast, Payne writes that in a culture of poverty, a person’s likability, sense of humor, and ability to entertain are usually emphasized over their education or qualifications.

Payne points out that being aware of these rules is important for people no matter their culture. When staff at schools, non-profits, and government organizations interact with and serve individuals who grew up and live in a culture of poverty, they frequently run into roadblocks. This can be because staff are operating under a different set of expectations than the people they are trying to serve. On the other hand, individuals who grew up in a culture of poverty can also benefit from understanding the hidden rules of the middle and wealthy classes. Payne does not encourage people living in a culture of poverty to leave behind their culture and assimilate to the norms of the wealthy or middle class. Rather, she states that people should be aware of the norms in different cultures so that they can switch between different rules when necessary.

By directly talking about the differences and assumptions that we all bring to our interactions with others, Ruby Payne has provided a valuable tool for anyone who would like to more effectively improve their own ability or their organization’s ability to build relationships with people from different backgrounds.

To get your own copy of Ruby Payne’s book, check at your local library or order it here.

M.K Gandhi Institute for Non Violence

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