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Bricks, Epithets, and Other Hurtling Projectiles

In: Social Issues

Submitted By kandrt11
Words 2293
Pages 10
Bricks, Epithets, and Other Hurtling Projectiles
My frustrations churned about in my mind. Pulling two furious twelve year olds apart, wrestling a homemade shiv from a 13 year old, chasing after runaway children, dodging tossed plastic chairs, and getting hit in the chest with a brick during a single day was just as horrendous as it sounds. Today was the day our supervisor had warned us about at our orientation, where all the kids are tired, cranky, unresponsive, and ready to go home. This was the day where the kids would be especially rowdy and try to push the team leaders away. Even in spite of Jamir’s warning, my two other team leaders and I were still not prepared.
Our every waking moment was dedicated to taking care of the kids. We woke up at 6 am to go to a meeting to discuss our responsibilities for the day. After a brief breakfast with the other camp counselors, we divvied up who was going to man each station. We had mountain-boarding, arts and crafts, rock climbing, swimming, going to the lake, and various other activities to attempt to entertain the kids long enough throughout the day to completely tire them out by bed time. After the activities were introduced, it was time to go wake up the children. In the first few days, the kids would be up and full of energy by the time we returned to the humble decrepit teepees. The vigor they displayed was inspiring to us counselors, yet wearisome at the same time. They were already extremely hyper even before they received their morning cup of hot chocolate. We had to feign being as awake and excited as they were because we did not want to disappoint the kids. Every morning they got up and begged us to begin the activities. Even though I, as well as my parents, thought I hadn’t paid very much attention to how my parents raised my sister and I and their mannerisms, I must have learned quite a bit from my childhood. Though often dreading the helter-skelter that occurred from the kids fighting over firewood and who gets to help cook, I did my best to keep a smile on my face and encouraging words on my lips. Cooking and cleaning was tedious and fending off rambunctious children from attempting to throw anything and everything into the fire whilst I was stirring soup, cutting vegetables, and holding the smallest kid in my arms was daunting. The whole time I was battling my own inner psyche to let my frustrations show through; I could not imagine how on earth my mother did it all. More so than that I wondered how the mothers and fathers did such a great job with many more children that were worse than my sister and I were. I gained a great deal more respect and admiration for what parents do day in and day out; we were only there for a week.
Before I arrived, I expected the worst out of the kids. My black and white thinking led me to believe that the kids would either be extremely shy and apathetic or very rude and obnoxious. I horribly dreaded going that following week because there were no showers and I feared the worst of everyone. After that first night, I got along better with the other volunteers than I had thought I would. The next morning when the kids started to arrive, things got a lot better because my fears were not substantiated. I was surprised how soon I learned a great deal of each child’s backstory. Most of the children were foster kids and were taken from their parents. Many of them said that we volunteers may be their only positive role models. Even through all of their sufferings, the children clearly demonstrated how strong they were. During a conversation with 13 year old Moses, I commented on how mature he was. He just stared stoically back at me and plainly replied, “Well, I’ve been through a lot.” His simple yet profound reply stuck with me because immediately after, he ran off to go play with the other kids. Observing the kids taught me that no matter what each of their individual circumstances are, they’re still innocent children. We must learn and adapt from our past and not let it tie us down in the present.
As we huddled around the campfire at night to tell stories and do our skits, it was apparent that the boys were still just children despite their language and the hardships they’ve faced. A couple of the kids fell asleep on our shoulders and we had to carry them back to the teepee. No matter how delinquent they tried to behave, they were still children. One moment the children were brandishing racial epithets against each other like swordsmen readying for battle, and the next they were jovially singing along with the campfire songs. Devo, a child in our group, paraded around putting down every other kid down in a misguided attempt to boost his low self-esteem. We heard him singing a beautiful rendition of “Man in the Mirror,” by Michael Jackson one morning while he was by himself. We immediately complimented him and were completely surprised by the incredible boisterous voice emanating from this child who was merely eight years old. After many days of chiding and convincing, we finally got Devo to agree to share his amazing gift with the rest of the groups at the camp fire. When it was our turn to go on stage and act out a skit or song, Devo stood up and walked up to the stage. Though much of the rest of the children in the group disagreed with him a great deal of the time, they stood up on the stage proudly behind their teammate despite the crippling stage fright of many of the boys. Devo did an incredible job that even his rivals in the group couldn’t deny. He sung beautifully. The brilliant sparkle in his eyes after hearing the applause of the crowd is an image I remember even to this day. Instead of further filling himself with the false pride of putting others down, he experienced true contentment and accomplishment in achieving something in a field that he loves. There was a noticeable difference in his attitude the following days due to his genuine feeling of acceptance. Many defense mechanisms were still prevalent, but Devo felt like he could begin to reveal his true loving self because he let himself be vulnerable and his peers, as well as us as mentors, accepted him and praised him for it.

Though Devo was admired for his courage and behavior the last few days at camp, many hardships were encountered between he and I. Jamir warned our group at orientation that we would be receiving him in our care for the week. Devo was described as a problem child in every sense of the phrase. We were to look out for his violent outbursts, biting and pushing habits, and frequent emotional breakdowns. After dealing with him and attempting to discipline his poor behavior, I learned that “problem child” was a severe understatement. I had never heard such foul language directed at me specifically. I was called every name in the book, and possibly more. Shivs were carved, several camp counselors were bitten, fights were barely broken up, and multiple everyday objects, from bricks from an outdoor oven, shoes, and lawn chairs were converted into weapons. No one escaped unscathed from this child. He began horribly beating another camper over cutting in line for mountain boarding by hitting him with a rock. I ran in to break up the fight with another counselor. The other counselor was hit with a plastic chair. Every time we got close to disciplining him for his actions, he would take off and often the search would last at least 20 minutes. Devo would cry hysterically when caught and was threatened by the adults to be sent home. The pure horror and regret that came over his face when that threat was proposed made my skin crawl and brought a lump to my throat. I was finally able to apprehend him one time after a brick was hurled at me for not allowing him to throw trash into the fire. After a good ten minute chase, I caught him and made him do push ups for discipline. I told him that if Jamir heard about this outburst, he would most certainly be sent home. Devo began to sob uncontrollably and told me how much he hated his foster home and wanted to stay at the camp forever. He confided in me experiences that no child, no matter the circumstance or age, should have to ever go through and remember. I spent the rest of the day talking with him about his circumstances. Before this incident, I was sure he hated me; after all he had said so a multitude of times. The frustration had infected my mind with its hateful tendrils and I began to think that maybe I felt the same way about him. After speaking with him and sharing our hardships, I had never been so mentally and emotionally conflicted. I had let his poor behavior and frustrations get to me. I knew I was supposed to show these children the unconditional love that they deserve, yet part of me gave into the ignorant and inconsiderate emotions and wanted nothing to do with him. His constant harassment and berating wore me down. I failed to realize however that my frustrations had been culminating with his already traumatized and overwhelmed emotional state. I became another failure. I failed him just as his parents, and various foster parents failed him before. Who truly was the fuck up now; Devo, or the various parental figures that had the duty to provide him with the best possible opportunities and the most care and love they could afford? Because all of these so called mentors failed him numerous times before, I was supposed to be the one to devote just a mere week of my time to these marginalized children. I was able to push these thoughts and emotions aside and focus the rest of my energy on Devo now. Though Devo and I endured the most conflict, I grew the fondest of him. I felt absolutely ashamed for being so selfish and allowing my frustrations to grab hold of my thoughts.
The emotions and stress I pushed aside finally came rushing forth uncontrollably at the end of camp when the children were returning home. Devo ran up to me and handed me a note along with his embracing hug. The note was the simplest, yet most complex assortment of words. Written, in what could hardly even be called chicken scratch, on a torn and crumpled up piece of binder paper was “I love you”. I hadn’t placed that much thought into the experience at that point and I couldn’t help myself but become choked up and even shed a tear. For hardly knowing and taking care of these children for a week in a shit-hole camp, I really did love these children. I was the brother, mentor, parent, friend, and confidant for those who had none.

My time at Today’s Youth Matter did not change who I am; I just became more self-aware of my innate patience. Being with the children also gave me more sympathy as well as empathy towards them which I can take back to my surroundings and educate people on how they are still just children and deserve more than to just be cast off because of their parents’ poor choices. This understanding of others, patience, and care that I noticed in myself will be further cultured in my everyday life. I also found out I can be more outgoing and playful than I had previously thought which will help me later in life as I meet new people and have more experiences. I also learned how much parents have to deal with when looking after children. A couple of the kids were challenges and handfuls. Devo did not listen to me because I now realize than I was too soft on him and that I have a difficult time punishing and disciplining. He brought me to the edge of my patience, yet I learned that I can keep my cool and attempt to handle new, difficult situations from a different approach. This struggle also put my greatest traits in perspective. I know from having to take care of these kids 24/7 that I am a compassionate person. I try to relate emotionally with others because I enjoy listening to them and trying to help. I could see that each story affected each child individually and that it could stay with them and give them strength. Listening to our supervisor Jamir’s story about his childhood spent in the foster system gave a great deal of insight because he showed his fervidity and proved that we could make a difference as a TYM counselor did for him many years ago. Hope gave him, as well as many others, a building block for bettering their lives. The counselors also gave them strength to keep going where other people had failed them. Even though the event was only a week long, which is almost insignificant in my brief history of only nineteen years, it furthered my passion for the pursuit of a career in health or psychological professions. Through the experience of being with the children and being a positive role model, I learned some of the deepest truths of humanity.

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