They come from all the villages served by the project. They are piled in the back and inside our trusty old truck laughing with bright, intelligent eyes. They are full of life! These are our young leaders, each invited because of their special leadership potential by local leaders, and our organization, Circle of Empowerment.
We started this project to grow a new generation of leaders, who will be nurtured, prepared, and enthusiastic about the future of our 9 villages. This is a two day retreat for 24 young adults from ages 14 to 20. In 2013, we started with a women’s group of young leaders, and in 2014 added the men’s retreat for young leaders, with strong positive adult male role models as presenters. Since then, the two groups have gotten together for events, such as a movie night, with a leadership oriented film. The discussions help stimulate skill development, and creativity. We assist to direct the lessons to problems in their villages.
This year we combined both of the groups for a two day retreat, with the young women staying in the retreat center, and the young men in the rancho (a large thatched pavilion). The results were nothing short of amazing!
We divided the group into 4 teams, chosen at random, but balanced with males and females. Each named their groups, the vistas de future (the future visionaries), los posotivos (the positive force), los agilas (the eagles), and la passion (the passionate ones). We had a competition focused on developing collaborative problem solving skills, and working as a group. The fun games in the competition shared the purpose of allowing the leaders to share their skills, support each other and work as a team. The presenters made observations of group function for discussion later.
We used a list of leadership characteristics, and group discussion to discuss what was learned, and presented the styles of leadership, how the styles varied, and advantages of each type for different situations. We had them talk in their groups about identifying the greatest problems in their villages, and shared these with discussion in the larger group.
The participants then designed their own t-shirts with pictures to present a quality of a leader. They had a great time and wore their shirts proudly!
They took play breaks, in which volley ball, football, and helping team members with skills for the final competition the next day.
In the evening we showed the movie, “The Drumline,” a well-received movie addressing leadership development. We had NO discipline problems, but enjoyed intelligent, fun, supportive and collaborative participation! The smiles say it all!
The first question of the day the next morning was, can we do this two more days instead of one?
We started with a discussion of the film, pulling out the development of characteristics of a leader. We focused on some of the most critical qualities of a good leader, and even had some impromptu social dramas.
The groups were then divided into community groups to focus on what problems they had on a local level, and to strategize how to initiate positive change. One community focused on the corrupt distribution of roofing materials that were donated by the mayor for the poor, but never got to the poor, only to the family and friends of a corrupt leader. They decided to team with solid adults in their village, and push for transparent distribution at a community meeting.
Another group wanted to address the main road in their community that is close to impassable. Promises have been made, but the community leader has not been able to get action. They plan to form a committee, with other strong adults in the village to visit the mayor’s office on a regular basis to advance their project, and use our weekly trip to town as the transport they need to be assertive. They are also looking at a backup plan of approaching some of the people who are new residents from other countries, for donations for material, and working with the sugar company’s equipment (which was offered since they have workers in the village that need to be able to get to work) and repair the two areas most in need of repair with local labor.
Another group has a problem with young men sitting in the road playing cards, and also a rising drug problem. They want to try to build a recreational area in the baseball field to have a space to meet, and do healthy activities. They will rally support of the community, and see if they can get financial support from mayor or an NGO that is active in the area, with local labor donated.
Another community had no idea who their leader was, and couldn’t recall any election for years. They are going to form a committee with strong adults from the community to have a democratic election, and push for transparency with the new or perhaps not new leader.
Our last discussion group addressed the problems of violence in the villages and strategies for changing this. The discussion in the large group was VERY active, getting into machismo, roles of men and women, financial equality in a relationship, just distribution of resources, and the problems with alcohol and drugs as a contributing factor. It was nothing short of amazing to watch them debate and look for solutions! Here are some of their ideas:
·Control the sale of liquor to underage persons, and pressure the venders who violate it with first confrontation, and if that didn’t work enlisting the help of the police to fine the abusers, and affect their profits.
·Do more education on the village levels about violence, and push for more social pressure to reinforce that violence will not be tolerated. Push for a police presence in the area.
·Use local resources, pastors, and leaders to mediate and find resolutions.
The competition at the end of the day had all the teams in competition, but with group and individual support of the all the others. It was a very fun and collaborative effort! The winners officially were Los Positivos- but actually, we all won!
Certificates were presented to all participants, and the young leaders presented their official thanks and appreciation, with each individual sharing their words of and giving handshakes or hugs to the leaders!