Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Scouting in the U.K. Part IV: Walking the Tightrope Towards Community

March 5th, 2010 · 1 Comment

Last week I attended another Bowthorpe Explorer Scout Meeting. We spent the entire time working on the troop’s IT Badge.  I was in charge of leading three of the eight scouts present at the meeting through the requirements of the badge.

The first requirement we discussed was how technology can help make jobs easier to do.   Then we moved on to discussing computer viruses and internet safety.  After that came the fun part…

During the second half of the meeting each one of the Scouts had to create a spreadsheet and a powerpoint presentation based on a subject of their choice.  Since it was one scout’s birthday she brought in Celebrations to share with everyone at the meeting.  She was so excited about the candy that she decided to create her powerpoint presentation based on this subject as well.  Needless to say it was not the most scholarly of topics but she understood the point of the exercise which was to learn how to use a computer to convey information within a slideshow type medium. Overall I was very impressed.

After all of the scouts finished up their powerpoint presentations and spreadsheets we headed into the main hall where we played a rope game.  This was a “team building exercise” that I had never seen before.  All of the scouts except for one formed a circle around a large rope.  Then everyone picked up the rope and pulled as tightly as possible until it was taut and elevated about three feet off the ground. After the rope was elevated one scout climbed on top and the goal was for him or her to get all the way around the circle without touching the ground.  We started out with the smallest scout and she made her way around the circle with no issues.  Then things got a bit more difficult.  Before I knew it, it was my turn.  Climbing ropes/balancing in general was never one of my fortes in elementary school and entering the meeting last Friday I was still not very confident in my ability.  Despite my fear however I made it all the way around without touching the ground! I certainly do not plan on entering the circus anytime soon and I have to give the other scouts a LOT of credit for keeping the rope nice and taut but overall I was impressed by my newfound tightrope walking abilities.

No matter how old or experienced you are at something sometimes you need others to help you achieve a goal.  Without the other scouts helping me out I would never have made it around that circle, no matter how perfect or imperfect my balance is.  Scouting is an organization that has always encouraged people to learn how to work together and solve problems collectively.  This is a skill that they will need for the rest of their lives.  This was the first activity with the Explorer Scouts in which I truly felt that everyone worked well together as a group.   This was an incredible feeling.

At the conclusion of last week’s meeting I realized just how comfortable I have become with many of the Explorer Scouts and leaders that I have been working with over the past two months.  At first many of the scouts didn’t seem to know what to think of me but now they do not hesitate for a moment to say “hiya” to me and ask how I am doing.  While in Norwich earlier this week one of the scouts happened to see me and came over and said hello.  This was a very kind gesture and something that I would not have expected to happen even two weeks ago. I feel as though I am part of their community now and that is a wonderful feeling to have as I continue to volunteer with this group.

Hours: 3

Total Hours: 12.5

Tags: Henry

“If You’re Gonna Fight, At Least Take it Outside”

March 5th, 2010 · 1 Comment

My paper topic is on special education, what better place to volunteer than a school with a renowned special ed. program. Unfortunately, as Anya noted a while back, lengthy background checks are required for working with children. So I went to plan B: contact every volunteering and community service organiser Google has to offer. After a long and annoying process of playing email tag and waiting around for hours in coffee shops for my contacts to arrive (they never did), I finally managed to cement a legitimate volunteering opportunity. Duane Elkins is a 30-something man born and raised in Texarkana, Texas. He moved to Norfolk about 10 years ago and married a local woman. As a result, Duane has by far the coolest accent in the history of accents. Take hokey southern and mix it with hokey Norfolk, and you get Duane. But I digress.

Duane and his wife Claire (pronounced “Cleh”) run an after-school program on Thursday for children in the Lakenham area out of a church. A group of volunteers spend time and play games with whoever decides to show up. The area is economically deprived and many parents do not pay their children adequate attention. Some of the parents have learning disabilities. Others are too busy working long hours. And of course, some are apathetic.

I took the #004 Anglian from the central bus station to Lakenham. The stop I needed was at a pub called, I kid you not, “The Cock.” Asking the bus driver to take me there was just as awkward as I expected it would be. When I arrived at the church at 18:00, I found Duane and he introduced me to the other volunteers. It was a motley crew of young, middle aged, and older folks all there free of charge, taking valuable time out of their busy schedules to give local children something to do and keep out of trouble.

Duane explained to me that all children are welcome regardless of age. Some of the kids have special needs; others just have nowhere else to go after school. There are no written rules anywhere. If a child is especially poor behaved, he is kicked out, “banned,” for a fortnight. The goal of the program is to teach the participants how to respect authority and each other while having lots of fun in the process. Some nights are successful and all around enjoyable while others are a nightmare. My first experience falls into the latter category.

The plan for the evening was to make paper mache for the young kids and teach the older ones a game called murder mystery. I chose to help out with the older crowd. Claire and a younger woman studying social work accompanied me. They explained to me that the older ones are sometimes very difficult to handle. Many of them have parents who never taught them the meaning of respect.

The kids were so badly behaved it was actually frightening. The moment they arrived they started going crazy, swearing, fighting each other, and throwing playing cards and tea bags around the room. It was impossible to control this group of 13 and 14 year-olds. The boys were violent and crude and the girls were just plain mean to each other. The whole situation was not at all how I imagined.

The worst part was the complete lack of authority from the adults. I felt helpless standing at the sidelines while the kids trashed the room and fought each other. At one point Claire yelled at two of the boys, “If you’re gonna fight, at least take it outside.” One of the combatants, 13 year-old redheaded Liam is a known drug dealer. A few weeks back, another kid, Ben, misbehaved and was chastised by Duane. Ben proceeded to call 999 and report that Duane was abusing him. The police, knowing better, ended up escorting Ben home while Duane shook his head in frustration. Last night, another child whose name escapes me kicked the chair legs out from a sweet little girl called Georgia, knocking her in tears to the floor. Duane banned him. The kid called him a “fucking faggot” and stormed out. We never managed to teach any games.

After all the kids went home, the volunteers met to debrief. During the meeting, we chowed down on birthday cake and discussed the evening. Apparently, this was the worst and least successful night in months. I guess I chose to right time to start. We brainstormed new ideas to keep the kids in check. Someone suggested a list of written rules up on the wall and a yellow and red card system for those who break them. I proposed an elected system of government, entirely managed by the children. They are clearly already in control, so why not give them some structure to work with?

Eight year-old Ashley, the severely ADHD son of a volunteer, noted that the lack of rules is what separates the group from school. His contributions were helpful and valid, so he was treated like an adult. Ashley embodies the essence of what the group is meant to be. He treated us with respect, so we reciprocated. I was surprised at his precociousness, despite his hyperactivity and young age. Ironically, the older kids pick on Ashley while they should be emulating him.

Around 21:00, the meeting was over and we cleaned everything up. I had a nice conversation with Ashley about WWE wrestling. Did you know that The Undertaker was still competing? He must be in his forties! Overall, my first night at the Thursday youth club was an interesting one, to say the least. I am looking forward to going back next week to a hopefully better behaved crowd.

Time logged: 3 hours

Total time: 3 hours

Tags: Andrew B