At the very first meeting, I brought all the girls a simple gold bangle so that everyone could have something in common right away, and to make them feel part of something special. It is important that they know YALA Peace is theirs, that it is their place to shine together and take that light out of the workshops every day. Also, they all love bracelets.
For a jewelry-making workshop, I brought the girls little blue, turquoise, red, and gold beads to make necklaces and bracelets with. When I was younger, I was always told to make presents for other people. And there is a deep joy in giving a present to someone else, especially something you made with your own hands! But I wanted to make it ok to give a present to yourself too, to show self-appreciation, to feel worthy to make a present from you to you! So I also gave them each one silver heart charm, and one golden key charm, so they could make jewelry for themselves and a friend. Most of the girls said they were making something for their mother.
My mother, who leads her own brilliant workshops on parenting in Miami, and is a never-ending spring of inspiration, wrote this to me after coming home from a dance class recently:
"I observed this very friendly 5 year old who dances with all the grown ups (she is named AMELIE after the movie).
she makes all the other normal children look anti-social, but she is totally unaware, she just is that way.
It made me think -
How shy i was at that age with strangers, how many times i had been shamed for every spontaneous uttering.
Amelie's mom takes my workshops, so Amelie comes and gives me hugs. While giving her a hug back, I thought of
sending a hug to the 5 year old me, telling her how amazing she was. How she can reclaim her innocence &
cuteness, now. How it is never too late, to make things right.
Then I had this amazing idea, that we can heal the little ones trapped inside with some desires, by giving that very gift we needed to a living child who needs it.
EXAMPLE: if you had a desire for a coloring set, at age 8, go to a shelter and give one to a child who loves to draw but has no paint.
If at age 13 you wanted a designer dress, or a protector, buy one, become one for a child of that age....
(The caveat is that the child must want it.)"
I was so taken by this, and it stirred in me the same passion that propelled me to make YALA Peace happen - that when I was 13, I would have loved for an older girl to give me a pen and ask me to read out loud whatever I just wrote, to see the beauty in my photographs, to listen to my whole story about my family tree, to tell me I can speak loudly and that we are all beautiful geniuses. I want to give every one of these girls the creative chance to do whatever they always dreamed of, and the vision and confidence in themselves to live largely in every way.
It's not so easy - first of all, I want to sit back and quietly observe exactly what each girl is dreaming of, to know each individual for who she is. Also, some of these girls come from painful homes and situations in which they are subtly oppressed or silenced or sad, and these meetings are a time for them to live lightly and laugh and be 13 years old in the presence of other 13 year old girls. I want to let them just be. Then again, I want them to just be their truest selves, which can shrink when oppressed or tired or sad. So I do my best to lift it out of them, to start that deep belly laugh that I had as a child and still lives in me, coming out so loudly during our meetings. And I love to hear it coming back to me from one of these girls, like jewels.
-a photo of my mother and little me