There is a "proverb" I have heard my pastor in Richmond, Rev. Dr. Stephen Howard (who is from Liberia) say: "When you want to know how the village is doing ask how are the children?" This past week in Kenneth Gardens I have been particularly observant of the children. One of the play areas equipped with tire swings and a soccer net has been the gathering place for our research team. Initially without forethought or consideration, it didn't occur to me that this would also be a popular gathering or "hang out" spot for the children in the Gardens. Therefore, as we assemble each day to go over our photovoice data collection plans with the Brettonwood learners, we have also been privileged with the great company of the younger children.
If I had to answer that question, based on my very preliminary observations, I would say that the children are well and therefore the community despite how some outsiders (and maybe even insiders--we will know more about this once our data from the community "elders" survey are analyzed) may perceive things. The children have jubilantly embraced us EVERY day that we are in the Gardens with an abundance of energy and joy. And while we don't know what their lives are like back in their flats with their families they have exhibited a certain resilience that is hard to ignore. No matter what difficulties and challenges they may be living as a result of growing up in an under-resourced and marginalized community--they have not let that diminish their excitement and eagerness to "play in the sun" each an every day. This is a lesson that many adults can certainly benefit from. Dr. Mosavel stated in one of our debriefings that: "Every moment counts. Life is a series of moments." Even when we as adults have failed to fully embody through our actions, words and interactions with others this concept, the children have not.
So, how are the children in Kenneth Gardens? I contend many of them are well and thriving despite being faced with some difficult circumstances that are beyond their control and possibly even their awareness. A critical factor appears to be the fact that it is indeed taking a village to raise the children and they have cross-generational care providers. For example, the faces of the younger children really lighten up when they see the Brettonwood students and they know them by name. This is impressive and touching to see because ultimately the reality is that we will be leaving Kenneth Gardens and it is good to know that their joy and sense of freedom won't leave with us. They have elders (adults) and older children in the community who are attentive, responsive to their needs and nurturing. Two "elders" stand out in particular--Ms. Khani (featured in one picture with me and the project's UKZN PI Monique and in another with one of our UKZN research team partners Tamlynn). The there elder is Ben (my picture of him was blurred by sun). Ben along with his two sons coach on a voluntary basis the neighborhood soccer team which according to Ben has been a unifying force in the community--bringing the adults out of their flats and together to support the children. I would also like to add that external partners like Monique and her team who out of pocket purchased the first uniforms (shirts) for the soccer team have been instrumental to helping the community members provide a nurturing environment for the children. And again, I dare not under estimate the influence of the older youth. One of the pictures below is a picture of a Brettonwood student (girl) holding one of the smaller children. The other pics are of Kenneth Garden children playing soccer and interacting with our research team.