By Todd Guckenberger, Back2Back Executive Director
As the Hope Education Program at Back2Back’s Monterrey, Mexico campus was growing we realized that we were making sure the children’s physical needs were met and their educational needs were being addressed. We were teaching them spiritual lessons about Jesus and hiring psychologist and asking questions about their emotional needs, but there was one area left gaping: their social development.
Social development teaches us how to interact with each other, how to behave in a classroom, or in public, and how to express ourselves socially. These skills are critical for securing a job and for managing interactions with the larger society.
Feeling a little insecure is a normal part of most of our childhood and teen years. How we feel on our first day of school, the first day on a new team, the first time we had to speak in front of our classroom, our first conversation with a cute girl, all require us to demonstrate to the world, and ourselves, if we have what it takes to overcome our fears and be successful.
As children, we “practice” interacting socially with others, and with society every day. Our world naturally expands as we join sports teams, perform at recitals and plays, meet extended family and travel on vacation. These experiences were stolen from the children we serve. For reasons they couldn’t control, their world was made small and in some cases, a child will live, attend school, and socialize on the same campus. Although they’re in a safe environment, their social development is stunted. Those struggles regarding how to navigate the larger world will follow them into adulthood, reinforcing their fears that they are different, fears that they have nothing to offer.
To this end, with the heart of serving children in practical ways that will contribute to their long-term success, we encourage participation in extra-curricular activities such as art, drama, and sports teams. We want the children we serve to have the opportunity to try new things and receive coaching to develop skills that they will one day use in their professional lives. For example, playing soccer on a team helps a child gain an understanding of teamwork, fosters camaraderie, and creates a feeling you are a part of something larger than yourself, rather than an outcast.
The children we serve need to have opportunities to interact with others in a faith community. By participating in a student worship band for church, or serving on mission trips to other parts of the world, the children understand they have something to offer and it matters! God has given us each talents to serve Him. They can learn from others and teach others according to their own growth. By serving and studying, they understand who they are in Christ in a deeper way.
We actively invite mission teams to come and interact with the children we serve. Some participants voice concern over people coming in and out of their lives. Are we doing more harm than good? The truth is, when the children interact with a group member, their expectation is that the relationship will only last for a day or week at the most. This is a completely different experience of ‘leaving’ than what they experienced with their biological families. When you share time with the children, you model healthy conversation, serving alongside each other, and healthy affection. You teach, without even realizing it, how to smile and greet someone, how to share, how to work, how to listen, how to pay attention, how to exchange and how to problem solve. These are critical lessons for all of us, but especially for the orphan child.
At Back2Back, our goal is to see each child we work with develop a personal relationship with Jesus, become independent and sustainable and be interdependent in his or her community. Please pray with us as we work to flesh out this part of the 5-Point Child Development Plan. It can make the difference for a child who needs to interview for a job or assimilate with his in-law family or find his way into a local church. We believe intentional opportunities will cultivate these skills. Thank you for all the ways you have supported the staff and children as we have worked to this end!