In Botswana this week, I have shared nonviolent communication and leadership training in two secondary schools, with university students, and with teens who attended a parenting class.
This is a country that has a median age of 26 .
I’ve been reflecting on how, throughout the world, teens are often looked at as ” the problem.” My experience is that teens come alive when they can trust that their needs are truly valued, that they are seen, and that their raw energy for honesty and fun and Life itself are celebrated.
In Gabarone yesterday , after an engaging lunch meeting ( at a delicious Thai restaurant called Simply Asia) with women professors and students from the Women’s Empowerment Group at the University of Botswana, Elliot, the cabdriver who’s been taking us to many places this week, drove us out of the city and through the bush to the town of Maledi where we were going to have a session with students at Molefi secondary school. Every now and then, Elliot pointed out cows, goats and sheep crossing the road, desperately looking for food in the drought ridden month, before the spring rains begin.
I was beginning to feel a little worried that I was so sleepy from the heat, the delicious food, and all of the amazing meetings, conversations and workshops, that I wouldn’t have enough focus and energy for the session with the students.
Three hours later, Amanda and I practically danced out, so energized by the encounter with this amazing group of 40 student leaders. In a country where the median age is 26, it’s easy to see how important it is to connect with young people, how clear it is that this is the future and that supporting these young people in stepping into their power is crucial to creating the beautiful future that we all dream is possible.
After we all assembled in the multimedia room of the school, I learned that this was the first meeting of the new student representatives from each class. There were approximately 40 students, two class representatives from each class. The principal had told us earlier in his office that these students were chosen by their classmates to be the representatives and that the vision of the program was to create a governing system among the students, all the way up to a premier and a president, paralleling the structure of the Botswanan government. When I suggested to him that we work on leadership training, he readily agreed.
When I entered the room for the workshop, the chairs were set up in rows facing a desk in the front. As the students entered and started sitting in the back rows, I stood up and said, well how about if we arrange the chairs to reflect that everyone in this room are leaders ? The students looked at me, with expressions that I interpreted as curiosity. So I said, how about if we all sit in a circle so we can all see each other and everyone feels included? So the students right away started rearranging the chairs in a circle. As more and more students came in, The first circle was big enough and numbers of students sat in the back again. I asked, was anyone unhappy that some students are sitting in the back. A number of students raise their hands and said yes. And I said why? A woman student said, because I like the idea that everyone will be included and everyone will be equal.
I asked her, does she have any ideas about what we can do about her unhappiness that some students are sitting outside the circle? She answered, to me, we could make room for them. I said OK, you lead us in that. She quickly jumped up and Began directing the other students to rearrange the chairs in a circle.
After, when we were all sitting in a circle, I asked if anyone appreciated what she had done. Silence. Shifting in seats. I asked her, would she like to hear if anyone appreciated what she had done? Yes, I would. At that, several students began to speak about how much they appreciated the way she took leadership, and that they felt inspired by how she had done that.
Some gave her very specific feedback, such as the way she stood up in the center of the room. I asked if there were other things that people appreciated that anyone of them had done. One young woman pointed with her finger to a young man. What was her appreciation? I asked if the other students had seen her gesture of appreciation. No, most of them had not. I asked her if she would be willing to do it again, and we talked about how Important it is for each of us to take responsibility for making sure that the other person receives our message of appreciation. We gave each other feedback about how it felt to receive appreciation. We talked about how giving this form of support to each other will strengthen our leadership and create a stronger bond among the students.
We continued in this vein for almost 2 hours. Students taking leadership, other students expressing appreciation to them, sharing exactly what the other had done that inspired them.
So many of the deeply meaningful encounters for me this week in Botswana have been with teenagers. And I’m wondering if there are any of you out there who would like to join me in creating and supporting worldwide teen empowerment institutes.