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Bringing Hope All the Way to Sierra Leone, Africa

Families Together Therapeutic Preschool teacher, Kim Kokett
Families Together Therapeutic Preschool teacher, Kim Kokett

In 2016, Families Together Therapeutic Preschool teacher, Kim Kokett visited a rural part of Sierra Leone, Africa to help build a preschool. She focused on training the local preschool teachers on early childhood education, childhood development, and a trauma-informed approach. Kim just came back from her second visit this past December and January. Kokett was there for about two and half weeks continuing their curriculum development. Kim explains, "Trauma-informed means that you are aware of the trauma that has happened and that is a part of the work that you do. So that means even the language you use might be a little different. You are more focused on trying to build relationships, and working on social-emotional skills." Kokett highlighted the importance of seeing the children as more than the trauma they experienced, but still remembering that it is there and it impacts how they function, how they feel, and how they behave.

Similarities Between the Sierra Leone Preschool and Lifetrack's Therapeutic Preschool

Our therapeutic preschool children and the Sierra Leone preschool's children display similar kinds of behaviors. "It is challenging for a lot of the children to have any kind of long-term focus on any one activity, and there were definitely some children who were somewhat hesitant to interact with the adults and teachers," says Kim. One thing that Kim talked about with the teachers was to work with the children and make sure that the children know it is okay to express their sadness, anger, and other emotions. A term that they use for children who keep all the pain inside and are not as expressive is "internalizer." Kim says that at Sierra Leone many children are internalizers, and she believes that is a reflection of what kind of behavior is acceptable in their culture. With the right curriculum and attention, the hope is that the children will become more expressive so that they can work through the trauma.

                                

She was happy to see that yoga and mindfulness activities worked well in the Sierra Leone preschool. "The children were starting to be able to take deep breaths and do some very basic yoga poses. It was a lot of trying to really connect them with their body and what they are feeling. All of that translated pretty well," explains Kim.

Incorporating the Whole Family

When Kokett was working with the Sierra Leone preschool teachers, they were planning on intentionally bringing families into the curriculum. The families would come into the preschool, collaborate with the teachers, and do more one-on-one interactive activities with the children. Kim hopes, "Once teachers gain a little more training, they’ll do home visits as a way to connect even further with the families." The teachers also incorporated the women coming into classes to work on literacy skills, and other skills they did not have the chance to build.

A Nature and Community Based Curriculum

Kim spent a lot of time with the teachers to further develop the curriculum for the preschool. She explains that the curriculum is very focused on the children interacting with nature and the community. It also incorporates cultural elements such as weaving, building instruments, hair braiding, and storytelling. "A lot of the principles are based in permaculture; which focuses on nature, community, and how they intersect. We even put into the curriculum how we problem-solve together, to help the children build relationships," explains Kokett. They also had the elders come into the class and teach the children skills. "This is still evolving; it is all from the ground up. We are really developing as we go. We're at about 75%," says Kim.

                                                    

Progress Since the 2015-2016 Trip

More community support is an improvement Kim saw since her last trip. "I think there was more community understanding about the hopes, the visions, and the intent. The children were already bringing some of what they were learning into the community." Kim explains. People were noticing the children talking more than they typically would. "There is more curiosity, more willingness to try, what I think at first might have seemed really strange and different. Now, through the chance to see and learn different skills, it is making more sense," explains Kokett.

                             

Hope For the Future

Kim Kokett really wants to see children and teachers thrive. She thinks a good home visiting program developing in the next few years would help advance the progress she has already seen. " I want parents to feel secure enough in in the teachers and the preschool, so that they can really tell the teachers their stories and what families have been through, and know that there will not be judgment. There is just going to be support for them," Kim hopes. There is talk about collaboration developing between the school, the farm, and the health clinic so that they are truly incorporating the whole child in the curriculum.

"We now have five other villages who want a similar project. It is really exciting to see people want better and grasp onto that opportunity. It is going to take the strength and will of the people coming together. To see that process happening is a really neat thing," says Kokett.

"The need is endless and were just going to keep taking it a day at a time and keep doing trips, and fundraisers. There is a group that will be going in May, and many of us are going back in December," explains Kim. Hopefully, the curriculum will continue to be successful, and as they keep taking trips, they can bring the project to other villages.

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