Women’s club (and men’s club) is an important secondary project that Peace Corps volunteers undertake around the world. Women’s issues (I will focus mainly on women’s groups since I have started one myself) are prevalent in all countries throughout the world, including developed nations like our own. The reason we put so much emphasis on these women’s groups in the developing countries where we work is simply because there is a lack of education and voice concerning these issues in these countries. The concept of the free, strong, and independent woman is hard to find. In many parts of the world women are confined to the house. Their duties are limited to housework, raising children, and pleasing their husbands. An understanding of health concerns, like STIs, menstruation, pregnancy, and healthy weight gain and loss, are not discussed openly. Pressures from society, family, and self are ever prevalent in these women’s’ lives without a means of escape. Thus, I have undertaken this secondary project during my service in China.
I have mentioned in a previous blog my reasons for starting the club, as well as topics that my students wish to cover. Since that initial blog and initial meeting, I have had 3 more meetings. The introductory meeting was followed by a meeting focused on the topic of fear. I realized that many of the issues the students mentioned in my initial inquiry came down to the problem of fear. Fear to speak up, lack of confidence, fears about the future, finding a boyfriend, etc. So what better place to start than at the bottom?
I decided to follow another volunteer’s practice and start every meeting with the high points of the week (this volunteer did highs and lows, but I have found that negativity and only looking at the bad plagues my students, so I only want them to focus on the positive in their lives. It may seem unrealistic, but I guarantee the negatives will always be there, so I don’t need to put any more attention to that). I gave each girl a paper and told them to write down their fears (either in Chinese or English. It didn’t matter because no one was going to look at it). When they finished they put it in their pockets.
Then I asked them some questions to make them think, but weren’t intended to be answered (what is fear? What does it mean to be afraid? Why do we have fear? What makes us afraid? How can fear damage our lives?).
Next I read from an article I found online: what is stopping you from getting what you want in life? Your friends? Your family? A sense that failure—or success—might change your life and maybe that will make you feel uncomfortable? A sense that the people around you might disapprove of you aiming for what you want, or succeeding or failing? Whatever the reason it comes down to fear.
We also talked about how to overcome fear. I wrote down 7 suggestions that I mashed together from various websites (1. Identify the fear; 2. Take small steps; 3. Lean on friends; 4. Be positive; 5. See failure or rejection in a new light; 6. Be in the now; 7. Find motivation). Then we looked at some motivational quotes (nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood; many of our fears are paper-tissue thin and a single courageous step would carry us clear through them; to conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom; fear cannot take what we do not give it; the only thing we have to fear is fear itself; fear cuts deeper than swords; you block your dream when you allow your fear to grow bigger than your faith; if we let things terrify us, life will not be worth living; the greatest barrier too success is the fear of failure).
I asked the girls to make a poster to motivate themselves to overcome their fears. They were to write one motivational quote that I taught them, and words (in Chinese or English) that can motivate them to overcome their fears. When they had finished I asked them to follow me to the kitchen, take out the paper that they wrote their fears on and burn it. I explained that the smoke was carrying their fears away, and in the future when they find themselves becoming afraid, they should remember this moment and of their fears going away.
Afterwards we watched a scary movie for fun, and also because it was the week before Halloween.
Meeting 4: The topic of the fourth meeting was dreams. I am one of those persons who think that anyone can achieve their dreams if they work hard at it. Of course I am speaking of realistic dreams. Marrying a rich doctor might not be so realistic, but marrying a person who loves you for who you are is realistic. That being said I asked the girls to write down their dreams for the future. Then we had a discussion about what keeps us from our dreams? How can we achieve our dreams? I realized that the advice I had given them for overcoming our fears can also be applied to achieving our dreams, we just had to change the wording. Then I shared a poem by Langston Hughes with them
Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.
And two quotes. ‘Shoot for the Moon. Even if you miss, you will land amongst the starts.” And one by Walt Disney “All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.” To top off the evening I taught them PB&J sandwiches and watched an inspirational movie about realizing your dreams, called Soul Surfer. It recounts the true story of a young surfer, Bethany Hamilton. She had her arm bitten off by a shark, survived, and later courageously overcame her difficulties to achieve her dreams of becoming a professional surfer. Based on their faces and reactions, the girls were definitely inspired. I told them that if she can, they can, too.
Tonight I will have my 5th meeting. The topic is “how to get along with others.” For some this is an issue many Chinese face. In my opinion it is a result of the concept of “face” and being indirect with others. If we are incapable of directly talking to others about the things that annoy us, then we cannot move forward from this. I will begin the night with asking if they sometimes find it difficult to get along with others. When is it difficult to get along? Who is it easy to get along well with? Then I will give them some suggestions. With Mary’s help I came up with a list of suggestions on how to get along with others.
-walk a mile in their shoes
-be friendly (say hello, ask about their day). You don't need to talk long, keep it simple
-don't get angry. express your feelings and work together to find a solution
-respect peoples' difference
-be open minded, share ideas, don't be stubborn, your idea might not be the best idea
-find something you both have in common
-don't judge a book by its cover
-you won't be friends with everyone but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be polite and friendly
-everyone doesn’t have to do everything with you (find someone who wants to do that activity with you and don’t be angry at those that don’t)
-don’t laugh at people
-be open to change
-remember small things about them (name, hometown, etc). things to let them know you care
Some of these may seem obvious, but most of my students will never consider the above as a way of dealing, or managing their relationships with others. I will also have them try to look more closely at themselves and identify three behavior patterns that most impede their ability to get along well with others. What would they wish to do to change that behavior?
Lastly we will go over several different scenarios that deal with other people. I will ask them what they think are some solutions.
Scenarios: (based on Mary and my observations we came up with these scenarios)
• You want to study in your dormitory, but your roommates are playing games. What should you do?
• One of your classmates is very shy and doesn’t talk to the other students much. What should you do?
• You are at a party with your friends and there are some people you don’t know. What should you do?
• You go to eat in the dining room by yourself. You see some other students eating alone. What should you do?
• You are walking to class and you see a student you don’t know drop something. What should you do?
• You meet a student at Mary’s house that you never met before and you get along well. What’s the next step?
• You get good grades on your English writing, but one of your classmates always gets bad grades. What should you do?
• One of your roommates is always very messy but you like a clean room. How should you talk to her?
• You aren’t good friends with one of your roommates. How can you still get along?
• One of your roommates doesn’t have a lot of money. Everyone else wants to go out for a nice meal, but it is too expensive for this girl. What can you do?
To end the night we will watch the movie Stepmom which is a good example of people who overcome their grievances with each other and are able to get along.
If you have done a similar group or some life skills training I would welcome any advice.