I have been managing CRP’s youth programs since 2017. My role focuses on supporting the education and wellbeing of refugees and vulnerable Jordanian youth. We offer a variety of programs for youth of all ages that include early childhood education, daycare, After School Club, SuperGirls, teen leadership and community service, vocational skills training and Sports for All. It’s key for us to integrate trauma-sensitive care in all our work to help children and youth become more resilient and overcome adversity.
COVID-19 has greatly affected our youth programs at CRP. Right now, both of our centers are partially closed and we offer the majority of our youth programs online. My team consists of 4 coordinators, 5 early childhood teachers, 1 part-time staff member, and 12 volunteers. We have some activities we can run outdoors and safely inside. Online programs are a little more challenging. We do a lot of work to support our staff to successfully use a variety of interactive platforms to reach out to children and youth and deliver quality learning content online. We’ve been doing everything we can to make online activities fun and interactive for the kids and parents in our community, and this has been partly because we created learning groups and enrolled staff in a variety of online courses to train them on how to run great online programs.
Since we began working mainly from home in March, we concentrated on staff training in the slower summer months and really worked hard to further develop our team on mental health topics, coaching, and better self-care. They have been making great efforts in connecting with parents, who really need extra support in these trying times. Our staff leads parents’ sessions where everyone is offered a space to share feelings, concerns and struggles during the lockdowns and pandemic restrictions. The youth team calls parents one by one on a weekly basis to check in to see how they are holding up and to praise their efforts on the great job they do in teaching and following up on their children’s learning.
With COVID-19 nothing is certain, and every day there is a new challenge. There have been many government decisions that affect our work and it’s important to be prepared for anything. So, we keep alert, frequently need to change plans and are constantly solving problems. There have been many times when I have felt exhausted and overwhelmed by all the things I need to follow up on with my team and the many creative ideas I need to come up with the team– especially creative ideas to keep children engaged and enthusiastic about our online programs. It’s not easy running a youth program mainly online but these kids and their families need our support.
Parents are struggling, as well, with how to teach their children and support their learning. We’ve had great success with our early childhood program, where we have 22 refugee children aged 3 – 4 years old. We’ve managed to establish very strong relationships with mothers, in particular, despite the fact that we are mainly online. We work very closely online with parents and show them fun activities they can do with their children and ways to carry on meaningful conversations to help their child develop cognitively and psychologically. Mothers actively share videos and images of their children on our WhatsApp groups. On certain days we receive more than 500 WhatsApp messages and videos on different activities children have participated in throughout the day!
Most of our community members can only connect online via their smartphones and are unable to pay for reliable internet access. Thus, their children are unable to attend youth programming activities. Our grants team is making great efforts to secure funds that would help needy families to secure reliable internet subscription so children can learn and remain connected.
As for me, I really miss interacting in person with the kids who come to CRP every day. Sitting together in a circle doing breathing exercises and yoga, playing games, or listening to stories, and having a healthy snack together before they leave for home are some of the things I miss most. COVID-19 has imposed physical and social distancing and all of us–myself, my staff, and our community–are feeling isolated and definitely more anxious. Online communications get really tiring after a time, and we are just so grateful that we can also do some activities in person with our youth. It’s natural that we all feel pretty fed up with online communications, meetings, and learning. We’ve been lucky to have some in-person activities and we’re looking forward to being back in the center all the time one day in the not so distant future!