Now, it’s time for Casa Mantay! For those who don’t know, Casa Mantay is different from other schools in that it is also an NGO that works with young victims of sexual assault and abuse. Housing young mothers and soon-to-be mothers between the age of 12 and 18, Casa Mantay provides a safe, guarded place to live, with food, counseling, private schooling, and practical skills on how to raise a baby and survive in the world once they leave the house. Under these conditions, the girls are understandably more cautious when meeting new people and harder to engage. Also, as the girls are a bit older, we have to think of different ways to connect with and teach them.
The first month working at Casa Mantay came with a steep learning curve. The girls took a while to get ready and would unenthusiastically walk with us down to the court. We would only bring soccer and volleyballs, as these were the only sports of interest to the girls. Because the girls have household responsibilities, we would have a maximum of 6 girls in attendance. We would let them structure the class, as we didn’t want them to lose interest or decide not to participate. We wanted to get on their good side. The fall semester – especially the beginning of it – came with a lot of walking on eggshells.
As the semester bore on, our goofy demeanors finally broke through to the girls and allowed them to open up a bit more. We showed up at the same time every week with smiles on our faces to let them know we were committed, and we didn’t pry into their lives. A breakthrough happened when we took them on a fieldtrip to the pool. We saw them open up more and come out of their comfort zones. While it took a while to coax some of them to let go of the wall and come swim, even with arms wrapped around our necks, it was a good metaphor for the trust that was built as the semester continued. As we ate lunch together before returning to the school, everyone was laughing, cracking jokes, and posing for goofy selfies. It definitely made us feel more comfortable with them to know that they felt more comfortable with us.
A moment of clarity was presented to us when we interviewed the girls and administrators about the program in December 2016 as part of our annual Monitoring and Evaluation research. Many of the admins expressed the importance of sports for the girls, how they return to the house every week more calm, more levelheaded and cooperative when problems arose. The admins even said that they would like us to come every day if possible, as it makes their jobs a lot easier when we have class! They said that the girls are always asking when deportes is and if they can get out of their scheduled chores to attend class that day. The only critique was that we should come even earlier, as the girls take a long time to get ready for class, which cuts into their time actually being outdoors. It was nice to hear this feedback because it was hard for us to ever tell if they were excited for class. Sometimes excitement or appreciation can be a hard thing to show, especially every day and early in the morning.
But the most important nugget was in our interviews with the girls: it turned out that they wanted more structure! We had been approaching the classes all wrong, anticipating that less structure equals less pressure on the girls and that participating at their leisure would keep them happy. However, the girls really wanted to do drills and laps and have repercussions for behavioral infractions. So, starting in March, we structured the class more similarly to class at our other schools. We ran warm-up laps, stretched, did drills, and most importantly, introduced other sports. The girls love their fair share of soccer and volleyball, but the same-old thing was getting mundane for them. The girls wanted to try other things, and when we introduced kickball, they LOVED it! We introduced baseball, American Football, and new rules that students must participate or return home (out of fairness to the other girls who were participating) and that if one girl was late for class, all would have to run three laps around the court!
The girls stayed on top of the others as far as timing, and even us, if we were a minute late. It was great to see more structure and more accountability, as well as girls encouraging others who weren’t participating. Most importantly, the girls seemed to be even happier with the changes, excited at the prospect of learning new sports or doing activities, and being with their peers outside. They are noticeably more excited for class and trusted our teaching methods. They stepped up as leaders and even teased each other, including the Profes, occasionally. As one student shared with us recently, “It’s like you guys notice we are pregnant or have babies, but you don’t treat us any differently. So thank you.” It’s been a process of trial and error, mutual building of trust and respect, and lots of patience, but we are grateful that they let us be involved in their lives. We celebrated four girls who became moms over the year! They strong, resilient, role models for us in more ways than they know.
Class numbers increased to a maximum of 13! We changed class time from Wednesday morning to Thursday morning to allow more girls to come because there are fewer chores at that time. We also acquired a key so that our girls at Casa Mantay can play without worry of others harassing them, stealing the court, or yelling obscenities about their bodies. We recently heard feedback from an administrator and a girl about how happy they were with the changes, especially how they feel safer. We agree that we have seen tremendous change in the affect of our girls, showing us the importance of safety, safe spaces, and sports for development.
Zorayda, Ysabel, Miriam, Maghdiel, Rosita, Thalia, Estefani, Katy, Idalíz, Fedialuz, Gloria and Roxanne: Thank you for trusting us and opening up to us. Thank you for your laughter and your dancing during class that honestly makes our days, and incessant help with trying to change the status of our love lives. Thank you for being even more excited to play when we have traveled through teacher strikes to get to you, and thank you for even having class to keep us sane during this dry season. We’re going to miss you guys so much and hope you do everything you want to do and go everywhere you want to go (even if it’s as far as Korea!). We are always just a Facebook friend request away. We love you guys, and we’ll be sure to invite you to our weddings when we marry those tall, dark, handsome men that you promised us. ¡Cuídense mucho!
– Profe Alika y Profe Lydia