Beryl Cheal has both learned and taught all over the world. She’s developed early childhood educational programs in The Gaza Strip, South Africa, the Philippines, and more; she’s invested her life in absorbing the cultures of these communities and dispensing the knowledge she’s accumulated in the process. Her greatest takeaway is simple: no matter where one goes, kids are still kids. It’s a philosophy she’s used to create her own educational programs. “It’s the interactive lessons that I try to get kids involved in,” she says. “Because that’s the way we learn.”
CRP is lucky enough to bring Beryl on as an education consultant through a grant from FAWCO. Beryl arrived the beginning of September and immediately got to work designing our new Super Girls program, which will launch later this month. Having an educator experienced in childhood trauma is imperative to the success of the new program. Beryl is also looking at ways to improve our existing children’s programming. Because they live in a state of uncertainty and because they and their parents still struggle with the violence they left behind in their home countries, refugee children struggle to adjust and grow in healthy ways. “My charge is to help get [CRP] to be trauma sensitive. I’ve done a lot of work in the states volunteering for an organization that goes into disasters and works with the kids afterwards. So while I’m here. I’m hoping to work on designing a program where we can develop ways that kids can get over some of these experiences like an educator,” she says.
Beryl is never one to shy away from a challenge. After earning her B.A in Education, Beryl became involved with Quaker-organization American Friends Service Community, which eventually lead her to move from Southern California up to Seattle where she worked at Head Start. “When I heard there was a need for a preschool administrator in Gaza that the Friend’s Service Committee needed, I said, ‘Sure! I can do that . . . where did you say Gaza was?’”
Beryl has referenced a lot of developmental psychology in her work in Gaza and around the world, including three stints with the Peace Corps, where she created programs for young kids. It helps that her twin sister works as a psychologist. “There are normal responses that kids have to these of circumstances of war, violence, and dislocation. One might be confusion about what’s happening. One might be the feeling that life is out of control. One might be the feeling that they can’t trust adults anymore. They don’t care about anybody else. There’s a lack of empathy or a lack of self-confidence.”
In the past she’s used tried-and-true methods of trust-building exercises for kids in these situations. “For instance, if a child is confused about things. In games like chess or checkers, kids must focus to be able to be successful. Another feeling is that life is out of control. One of the things one can do is to bring an infant into a group of kids and talk about how small it is and what it can do, and then two months later bring the same infant back. And then talk about it and see what the progression is. So the more we get kids prepared, the more they know that life may not be out of control in some ways.”
Beyond these exercises, Beryl is working on additional lesson plans to help engage CRP kids build up their confidence inside and outside the classroom. Beryl’s philosophy is that kids are the same everywhere. They need to believe in themselves and understand that they have qualities that make them special. “Along the way, we’ll be working on those kinds of things to culminate into an activity of being proud of who they are. Having an activity that says to them: look what we can do.”