At the start of their life skills journey
February 26 2016

The Gweru Drop-in Centre serves the city’s street children by providing them with a free meal each weekday. Without this, many would go hungry and may be tempted to engage in criminal activities to survive.  Through the dedication of staff and volunteers who work at the Centre, they are able to build a relationship of trust and hope with the children and young adults who use the service. 

This month, ALERT’s Basic Life Skills course - that has been successfully trialled at our project site in Livingstone - was introduced to the Drop-in Centre in the hope that the Centre’s visitors will be able to develop ‘soft skills’ that will support them in their difficult lives.  The S.T.R.I.P.E course covers six aspects namely; self-manager, team working, reflection, innovation, participation, and enquiry.

To begin with, the course is being introduced gradually over a number of days, by providing an overview of all six elements of the course, with some gentle activities to begin to engage the average 16 young people who attended the course each day.  Once the course overview is complete course leaders will begin to guide the learners through each aspect in greater detail.

During the first session, learners were introduced to the concepts of:

Self-Management: being able to stay motivated and organised (e.g. following plans carefully, trying hard, meeting deadlines)

Team worker: being able to work as part of a group effectively (e.g. good group work, effective communication, leadership skills)

As there are significant differences in the literacy levels of the children attending the Drop-in Centre, activities - such as playing games - are a good means to help the learners understand the concepts of the course.  The first game played was called ‘Fish in the Red Ocean’; two learners (representing rotten fish) stood in the middle of the room, while everyone else stood against one wall.  Their aim was to cross to the opposite wall without getting tagged by the rotten fish.  If caught, they too had to become rotten fish until all but one fish was caught.  The game was used to establish whether the children could follow instructions and be organised in facilitating the game.  We were pleased to see that the children remembered the rules of the game, and listened to each other so that it could be played successfully.

The second game was called ‘Rope’. One person - the ‘Project Manager’ - stepped out of the group whilst the rest formed a circle.  Each was given a rope to hold in their right hand, passing the other end to the left hand of a person standing across from them. With everyone now holding two ends of different ropes, the Project Manager had to lead the team so that the ropes could get untangled.  It took several attempts before the children realised that they had to listen to their ‘leader’, whilst also working together as a team; communicating and co-operating in order for them to be triumphant.  Once they grasped this idea, they were able to understand that even complex problems can be solved when working in collaboratation.

The learners were then asked give to examples of when they could apply these skills in their life to demonstate that they had fully understood these concepts.

A few days later, lessons reconvened to consider two more concepts:

Reflect: being self-aware and evaluating your actions (e.g. looking at your own strengths and weaknesses, setting targets)

Innovate and Create: thinking of new ideas and working creatively (e.g. using resources creatively, thinking in new ways)

During this lesson, the learners were asked to create a profile about their lives in which many mentioned their current lack of basic necessities such as food, shelter, schooling and family life, and also what they consider as important aspects of a “normal” life, namely; love, friends, education, family unit, money, food and shelter. This is naturally a sensitive topic, but we were pleased that the children were responsive and willing to participate.  Learners were then given the task of being 'creative'.  Some made bracelets from coloured beads, with the different colours reflecting different aspects of their lives and their views of the world around them, whilst others wrote poems or stories about themselves and their families. 

Two days later, the fifth concept was introduced:

Participate: getting involved and behaving appropriately (e.g. having a good attitude towards learning and activities, trying your hardest)

This time, the learners played the well-known game ‘Simon Says’ where one person tells players what they must do, but they must only obey commands that begin with the words "Simon Says”.   Children were next taught the traditional game 'Musical Chairs'.  Players walk around chairs until the music stops, when they must sit on a chair.  There is one less chair than there are players, so someone is eliminated each round.  During both games the children were able to grasp the rules and participated appropriately.

Learners were then asked to work together to devise their own game.  They came up with one they called ‘River/Bank’.  A string was placed on the ground, with the river on one side and bank on the other.  A leader would then shout either "river" or "bank" and players had to jump quickly to the correct side of the string.   

The final concept was introduced to the learners on the 24th of February:

Enquirer: asking questions, and collecting and using evidence to answer them (evidence: asking questions, researching answers and spotting problems and coming to solutions and using data to draw valid conclusions)

A treasure hunt was used to demonstrate this concept where learners had to locate objects based on a clue given to them.  So if they were asked "what lights your way in the dark", the children would need to find a torch, lamp or candle.  The learners were encouraged to ask additional questions to help solve the clue.  This treasure hunt style was designed for the children to practice finding their own answers (research) and to make careful observations of resources around them that can help them.

About Kids Club

Kids Club is our opportunity to implement our Basic Life Skills Course.  The aim of the course is to assist children and adolescents to gain essential skills needed to operate effectively in society in an active and constructive way.  Topics in the course include; self-esteem, coping with stress, effective communication, decision making, problem solving and non-violent conflict resolution.  The course has been developed by David Brackstone of John Taylor High School, UK using a programme in use at that school and adapted for use in our schools in Africa.

About ALERT Education Centres (AEC)

Basic Life Skills courses are one aspect of the work of our ALERT Education Centres.  The AEC operations at Livingstone (Zambia), Victoria Falls and Antelope Park (Zimbabwe) are all aimed at supporting the formal education system by offering extra-curricular activities to enhance student learning, and assisting with access to education for vulnerable students.  Current programs include the provision of classes in conservation education, basic life skills, and English literacy.  In addition, we provide funding to pay the fees of vulnerable students to take part in education from pre-school to university level, and fully funded internship and facilitated research placements for university level students.  Future programmes will incorporate classes in numeracy, health & nutrition, physical education and business studies/entrepreneurship, as well as a variety of vocational training.  The AEC is operated in association with Coventry University (UK), Midlands State University (Zimbabwe) and Copperbelt University (Zambia), and with the assistance of David Brackstone of John Taylor High School (UK).   The first AEC, at Antelope Park, was opened in 2012 by the then Zimbabwe Minister of Education, Mr. David Coltart.

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