By Chima Osuji
Everyone can be a changemaker. You don’t have to be a sage, an expert, a president or a professional counselor to impact lives especially those of children and young adults. We can create a better future and change the world one child at a time.
Counseling, coaching and mentoring children and young adults with love is one of the most rewarding and fulfilling experiences I have had. It is one of the practical and effective ways of reinforcing teaching and learning beyond the classroom. Here is a story of my encounter with an amazing kid called Great, a ten year old.
Before our encounter, Great was basically the black sheep of the family. A bit rough at the edges but bold and innovative. The kid could not fit into the box of a regular child. While I saw that trait as great potential to be nurtured, his family members didn’t like his exceptional stubbornness and defiance.
On a fateful day, I was at the Badagry Suntan Beach having a picnic with my family and friends when I saw Great’s siblings “teaching him the lesson of his life”. They took turns in castigating and tongue-lashing him and even called him a thief. Impulsively, I was drawn to the scene and I appealed for calm and offered to talk to him in private, even though his family believed it would be a wasted effort.
So what was his offence? Great had taken his elder sister’s money to buy a can of Peak Milk without her consent. Peak Milk! I suspended judgment momentarily. So, I took him to a corner, and had a heart-to-heart with him. First, I made him feel comfortable with me and asked if he knew why his siblings descended on him that way.
All he said was, “Nobody likes me.”, and I was quick to dismiss his misconception. I pointed out to him the dangers of being disobedient and keeping bad company, and that if he didn’t change, everyone in his school would come to know him as Great the thief and no one would want to be his friend, not even his teachers. I shared a story of the misfortune that befell some misguided people in the past and asked if that’s what he wanted for himself, and he said no. Then I told him I wanted to be his friend, that he could trust me with anything. I promised to guide him every step of the way. I made him believe that I cared about him.
Guess what? He totally reciprocated the gesture. I asked him to just reach out whenever he needed my help. I got him to apologise to his elder sister and eventually went back to my picnic spot to catch up with the groove.
When it was time to go home, I heard a tiny voice from behind us. As I turned to look, lo and behold, it was Great. He gave me a passionate hug and said to me: “Uncle, I thought about what you said to me. I don’t want people to know me as a bad person. I promise never to take what does not belong to me again. Thank you very much, Sir.”. That acknowledgement alone made my day.
Moved to act with love and compassion, I took Great under my wings and followed up with his progress at school and at home. It turned out the kid was a bundle of raw talent. I realized three things about him:
● I got to find out that he was not adept in participating in class discussions and group exercises, but he excelled in making mental connections and creating things with his own hands, even things that had not been taught at school.
● I also found out that the school and his home environment could not offer him adequate outlet for his unique brand of creative expression.
● And I also found out that he needed the can of Peak Milk to complete a hand-made filter he was designing! He just did not know how to ask his family for support.
It is important for all of us—parents, guardians, teachers, mentors, coaches, uncles, aunties—to acquire good listening and counseling skills that we can use on the go in instances such as my encounter with Great. No doubt, a child or a young adult may be seen as stubborn but we can help in channeling their creative and playful energies into more productive ventures. We can teach them that they are changemakers in any field they choose, and offer the guidance and support they need to build the confidence to go out into the world and make stuff happen!
Children do not need labeling or stereotyping. They need guidance and counseling to grow into responsible citizens that contribute to the development of their community, our nation and the world.
I (as much as everyone else should) believe that no child is born to be bad and unfit for society. Rather, social and environmental factors play a major role in a child’s growth and development. We should therefore leverage those factors for positive transformation. What we see as stubbornness, defiance or “Misfit” may simply be misapplication or wrong channeling of their creative force, gifts and talents.
Remember this: Many great thinkers and inventors were misfits in their time and in their environment. Sometimes “Misfit” is just genius in the making.