Why did you decide to join Trybe?
I would say it’s a calling. Prior to joining Trybe, I had been working with you for about 5 years in the sector. I have always been passionate about developing young people. Over the years, I became more interested to work with the higher risk population especially those who had trouble with the law. The mission of helping them find freedom, not so much from institutions or the law but from the challenges in their lives, became a personal quest. Realizing that Trybe was moving in that direction in 2010, I became curious and wanted to get involved. The rest was history.
Is there a role model in your life who inspired you to work with youths or was it a personal experience that shaped your career aspirations? Can you please tell us more?
There have been many mentors over the years of development both as a person and as a professional. More than a particular role model, it is more of the experiences of being supported, developed, guided, groomed and challenged that helped me realize how needed this process is for many young people in our society, more so for those who are disadvantaged at a young age due to family circumstances. Having lost my father at the age of 10 and witnessing my family’s financial stresses as I grew up, I realized it was not easy navigating the transitional teenage years without proper guidance. In many ways, what happens to us during those years does shape our life’s trajectory to a large extent.
How do you work at connecting with the youths of today?
To be honest, it is not the easiest thing trying to keep up with youth trends and in some ways the youth language over the years as a youth worker. More so, when I transit from singlehood to married life and then fatherhood, I prioritize things differently and may not find myself keeping up with the latest. However, connecting is beyond just knowing the trends and what’s the latest. It is following timeless principles in interacting with a person. Listening, paying attention to needs, being sensitive to emotional experiences, empowering through conversation, facilitating reflections and discussing about aspirations. These principles have not changed from time to time, generation to generation. Everyone of us wants to be taken seriously. We want to know what we are thinking and feeling are important to the people around us. Connecting starts here.
What do you believe these youths need the most?
Many of the youths I work with struggle with family relationship issues, peer relations, mental health, academic stress and self-worth. While some of these challenges are part and parcel of growing up and self-discovery in their developmental journey, others are outcomes of not having the right support over time. It is really critical to have prosocial, supportive and connecting relationships to go through these challenges. Many of them do not find such support system within the family. The very people whom they are supposed to find support from, sometimes are the perpetuators of abuse and emotional hurt in their lives. Sometimes their families are struggling too so a holistic approach in helping them is needed. A young person may not need to have all the skills and knowledge to overcome the challenges but he/she will need the emotional fuel to press on and overcome. This fuel comes from connecting relationships and people who care enough for them.
How do you think parents and teachers can do a better job connecting / getting through to youths?
It is a common saying that we need to seek to understand before being understood. Sometimes it can be tough to apply within family context especially after many years of ineffective communication patterns. Before any relationship can improve or become connecting, it first takes the interaction pattern to adjust. A common observation is that parents and teachers tend to communicate what they want from the young person before understanding what the young person wants. This interaction may have started way earlier when the youth is a child. Does he/she grow up feeling that his thoughts and feelings matter? Many youths can understand why school is important to them and how their future can be affected without good education. However, the emotional experience of going to school may not have been the most positive for them to continue in that journey. Dropping out becomes a viable option to cope with life. Another saying that goes, “they do not care how you know until they know how much you care” tells of how this emotional experience in their development is crucial and way more important than drumming in logical reasoning onto them. Ultimately the most influential person in a youth’s life is the one he/she cares most about or feels cared for, not necessarily the most logical person.
What has been the most rewarding experience at Trybe?
Over a 6-year period in Trybe, I was working in an institution setting where I interact daily with a population of youths who were placed there on probation order because of their brush with the law. They came with history of abuse, family problems, relationship issues, gang affiliations and a whole list of ineffective habits in coping with life’s stressors. In an environment where we device a whole system and mechanism to manage their behaviors and progress in rehabilitation day in day out, it was both humbling yet rewarding to learn that ultimately no amount of external control is able to change a person for the better, regardless how long it takes. The initiative and drive to sustain this positive change comes from within the young person. The key to unlock it is a connecting relationship, not a set of rules and boundaries. In a connecting relationship, secrets are shared, hearts are opened, minds are influenced and actions are taken. It’s everything a social worker wants to witness.
How has working with youths changed / shaped your life or perspective on life?
Working with youths in my later years as a worker, helped me appreciate the differences between an event and a process. An event is a point in our life, a moment of decision making, an inspiration which triggered a change and so on. A process is a journey where we follow through with a decision, a commitment to sustain something, a rigorous journey to further a development step by step. Youth is transitional stage in our life where it is both an event and a process. Many of us are who we are today because of a significant event in our youth days where we are inspired, influenced and shaped. We are also living the outcomes of many journeys we have been through in these transitional years of our life. It may be a journey in a particular school we have been to, a relationship with a mentor who ‘walked’ with us, a process where we trained rigorously in a particular discipline that built our character. Being a youth worker, I am participating both in a potential significant event in a youth’s life or walking in a potentially important journey with them. I cannot undermine a single conversation, a word of encouragement, a 6-month or year long of journey with a young person, it potentially shapes a success story, leader of the future, parent of a family and destiny which I may not know of. Having been in the youth sector for close to 20 years, I had the privilege to see many of them becoming leaders in their own field, some getting married and starting their families. I’m humbled in knowing that I participated in some ways in shaping what they are today.
What does thriving mean to you?
It is easy to define thriving according to societal definitions of success. However, after many years of working with youth issues and journeying with many who are struggling, it is important to define it in a realistic way based how one finds happiness and satisfaction in his/her own life. It should never just take on a definition from external sources although in reality, these sources carry a weightage on the young person’s mind. Growing up in my generation, it is common to carry the expectations of parents/society to move towards more highly paid professions in order to be considered successful. Pursuing passion always seems like a luxury. Having pursued my passion in youth work and attaining my social work credentials, I’m glad to have gone down this path to do what I enjoy and felt purposeful about. I do believe everyone can thrive in an area of passion and purpose which can be found within and be guided along the way. This should be accompanied with a strong sense of personal satisfaction beyond what others expect. To think in a macro view, I will also add that this can include a consideration to contribute to a bigger purpose in our communities and society at large.