This is a wonderful post one from one our interns in Colima, Mexico. Jessica Moore is completing her 6-month stay in the city, where she has been working on community development. Below she shares some invaluable tips that are helpful for all types of youth engagement. Thanks, Jessica!
When I arrived in Colima I was aware that the focus of my position would be on urban mobility; I didn’t know what urban mobility looked like in Colima or what kind of alternative transportation infrastructure and culture existed. I soon discovered that the metropolitan zone of Colima consists of five municipalities: Colima, Villa de Álvarez, Comala, Coquitmatlán, and Cuauhtemoc with a total number of 334,240 inhabitants. Taxis are abundant, inexpensive and considered public transportation; there are bus routes that link the five municipalities that are cheap but not particularly reliable, and finally, 9km of painted bike lanes. On the world stage, the metropolitan zone of Colima is in third place behind Los Angeles and London for the number of automobiles per 1000 inhabitants with 385, even higher than Mexico City. That being said, congestion is an epidemic and car culture is ever-present in Colima and we can leave that to several explanations. Alternative transportation (buses, bicycling, walking) is quietly stigmatized and not taken seriously. Despite the not-so-visible culture of alternative transportation, it does exist and is propelled by different social groups.
My role is to take the culture that exists and promote it. Build upon it. Circulate it.
My principal project is to design and deliver an urban mobility curriculum to grade six students in three primary schools in the historical downtown. This ‘curriculum’ is a mini 6-session program that makes an effort to understand children’s perceptions around transportation, collect data on the obstacles they face in moving around their city, self-reflection on transportation issues and creating their visions of urban mobility in Colima. Why children? They are one of the most vulnerable groups and are unlikely to move autonomously around the city. The objective is to stimulate their thinking around transportation issues while they are young and can make choices pertaining to their transportation options while challenging stigma. Currently, I have two sessions of the program left in each class and I have learned a great deal about effectively engaging youth. Let me share a few tips that I think will be helpful in all types of youth engagement:
1. Practice makes perfect: Usually the first workshop is the least predictable; you can plan a workshop to the second but you never know how the children are going to interpret the activity or what questions will be raised, by the fourth workshop on the same topic, you’ll notice that the format has changed a bit and you’ll deliver it like a pro.
2. Be adaptable: Allow for the order of activities to be changed, permit more time for some activities and less for others. Be aware that depending on the group of youth, especially in classrooms, different people are accustomed to different teaching methods and it’s good to make note of this as you get to know the children you’re working with and utilize these methods.
3. Speak their language:One of the principal challenges I have faced is communicating with youth in a foreign language. I’m not a teacher but when it comes to this project sometimes I am and attempting to engage 11-year olds while keeping them inline has been exhausting! The best success I’ve had is to have a local colleague accompany me to help me maintain the kids’ attention.
4. Be patient: Kids have A LOT of energy! If a few become distracted, no big deal, take some time to engage them one-on-one. Help them out because perhaps they’re stuck and need some extra attention. It’s okay if they get a little bit loud – sometimes they’re debating the issues!
5. Play games: Probably the most important lesson I’ve learned is to start the workshop off with a game. Games or icebreakers are essential to burning off a little bit of that extra energy and quickly get the kids engaged. If you can create an easy game that is relevant to the workshop, great, but if not, just about any icebreaker can be modified to be applicable to the topic.
6. Learn names: If possible, learn the names of the youth participating. My biggest mistake was not paying enough attention to this until a few weeks in. Try and make an effort right away; the participants will have more respect for you when you call them by name and this goes a long way.
I’ve been really impressed with a lot of the opinions and ideas that these youth bring to the table when we’re talking about urban mobility in Colima. After the program wraps up, I’ll analyze and report on the information and visions of their mobility that they have provided through the workshops. Hopefully the next step will be to revise the curriculum to make it more effective and scale-up this pilot project to include more schools and more youth and expand the conversation around children’s urban mobility in Colima.