Thursday, October 21, 2010

Learning and Teaching Self-Esteem

I was at the Center for Integral Attention for the Caribbean Woman, waiting for my appointment with the psychologist, when the director of the shelter for victims of sexual and domestic abuse looked at me for a moment and said offhandedly, "You could teach dance classes here, right?"

I'm no longer surprised when someone recognizes me for being in the dance group. Between our various presentations around the city, some of which I'm told get played on the local TV channel from time to time, I'm fairly well recognized around town as the gringa who dances. Not that people need television to know my business, or anyone else's for that matter.

While not surprised that she knew I danced, I was a bit jarred by the way the director jumped into the middle of the conversation, bypassing the typical pleasantries like, "How long have you been in Bilwi?", "Do you like it here?", and "What's your name?" In any case, I considered for a moment and said, "Sure, why not?"

And that is how I started teaching dance classes three times a week to girls and women in the shelter. We dance a little bit of everything: Palo de Mayo, punta, cumbia, merengue, reggaeton. I'm hoping to get some Miskito music soon so we can dance that, too. It's a pretty laid-back and fun hour which somewhat inconveniently leaves me unusually sweaty in the middle of the day. I was expecting women in their 20s and 30s who were going to be shy and not necessarily thrilled about the new activity thrown into their schedules. Instead, the four girls who attend regularly are very enthusiastic and very young. I don't think any of them are older than 15. I don't know what their stories are, nor do I ever need to, but I hope the class is a safe space that helps them feel more in control of and have more esteem for their bodies and themselves.

And then there's the issue of my own self-esteem. My psychologist gave me a survey to see how assertive I was. It caused me to reflect on how far my behavior has fallen from the strong, assured self image I had created for myself sometime in college. She looked over my response and reported summarily, "You are an insecure person." We then proceeded to review some basic principles of assertiveness, which I found helpful and will reproduce here.

1. Sometimes, you have the right to be first.
2. You have the right to make mistakes.
3. You have the right to have your own opinions and beliefs.
4. You have the right to change your ideas, opinions, or ways of acting.
5. You have the right to express critique and protest unfair treatment.
6. You have the right to ask for clarification.
7. You have the right to try to change what does not satisfy you.
8. You have the right to ask for help or emotional support.
9. You have the right to feel and express pain.
10. You have the right to ignore advice from others.
11. You have the right to receive recognition for a job well done.
12. You have the right to deny a request, to say no.
13. You have the right to be alone, even when others want your company.
14. You have the right not to justify yourself to others.
15. You have the right to not take responsibility for the problems of others.
16. You have the right to not anticipate the desires and needs of others and not have to intuite them.
17. You have the right to not be dependent upon the goodwill of others, or the absence of illwill in their actions.
18. You have the right to respond or not.
19. You have the right to be treated with dignity.
20. You have the right to have your own ideas, and that they be as important as others'.
21. You have a right to feel and express your own emotions, and to be your only judge.
22. You have the right to stop and think before you act.
23. You have the right to ask for what you want.
24. You have the right to do less than you are capable of doing.
25. You have the right to decide what to do with your body, time, and property.
26. You have the right to deny requests without feeling guilty or selfish.
27. You have the right to talk about a problem with the person involved and clarify it, in case everyone's rights aren't clear.
28. You have the right to do anything, as long as it doesn't violate the rights of others.

It seems obvious and simple as I type it now, but reading over it with the psychologist, it felt like a revelation.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Sylvi and Ronaldo: A Story

Ronaldo is eleven years old. He lives in Puerto Cabezas, a city in Nicaragua that's right by the ocean. He lives there with his mother, aunt, and about twenty other family members on a little plot of land that has three houses and one well where they all get their water.

Among all his family, his favorite is his cousin Sylvi. Sylvi helps him eat and bathe and keeps him company during the day. Ronaldo needs extra help because he has cerebral palsy. That means he has trouble moving his body, so he can't walk or talk or move his arms very well.

Ronaldo likes to show people how he feels with his face. He especially likes to smile. Sylvi always seems to know if he's feeling hungry or lonely or if he wants to move his body around, and she knows just what to do to make him smile again.

During the week, Sylvi takes Ronaldo to school at Escuela Maureen, a school for children like Orlando who have special needs. Ronaldo loves going to school to see his friends. He smiles a lot there. When it is very hot, his friends always remember to help Orlando wipe his brow so he doesn't get too sweaty.

Ronaldo likes going to school with Sylvi. He was very sad when one day, Sylvi wasn't at home to take him to school. Sylvi and Ronaldo had another cousin, and he hurt Sylvi very badly when they were little. Now, they are almost grown up, but her cousin told Sylvi that he wanted to hurt her again. She was very scared, but she did not want to tell her mom because she thought her mom would get mad and say, "Your cousin is a good person. He would never hurt you."

Sylvi wanted to leave the house to be safe, but she did not know where to go. One night, she got very scared and sad and tried to die. But she did not die after all, and her family took her to the hospital. She talked with a woman there who told her she could go to a safe house where there were other women who had been threatened by someone in their family.

Sylvi did not want to leave Ronaldo and her family, but she knew she needed to be safe, so she went to the safe house. Now she is sad because she cannot take Ronaldo to school and keep him company anymore. Ronaldo is sad, too. He misses Sylvi and does not understand why she is not in the house. He misses school, too, because now no one can take him. He hopes someday Sylvi will come back so that they can spend time together and go to school again. Sylvi hopes so, too.

THE END. For now...

Monday, October 4, 2010

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

I've been working on grad school applications lately, and haven't had mental energy for blogging. Here is the reflection of one of my students, which is one of the more empowering stories I've read lately. We studied the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the assignment was to write a story in which one of these rights was violated.


One day a child told his father that he wanted to know his rights but his father said no, he wasn't going to tell him and the child was sad. The next day he asked his mother and his mother also said no and the child was sad again. One time, the child was still sad and a woman asked him, "Hey, why are you sad?" And the child said, "I'm said because my parents don't want to tell me what my rights are," and the woman said, "Don't worry, because I will tell you your rights."

"All children have the right to education, freedom, to play, and to laugh."

And the child was happy and went to tell his parents and he told them that he wanted to study and that he wanted to be someone in life and he also wanted to work to help his family. His parents were surprised by what he said, and his father said, "If you want to study, I'll send you to school."

The child went to study and now he's helping other students who don't know their rights.