Our students experience difficult and sensitive situations. Many of them are escaping from war or humanitarian crises and end up in camps, tent cities or slums that often turn into permanent housing. This is why Still I Rise is called to offer children not 'only' education, but also protection and a peaceful environment for them to grow up and develop.
Our commitment is to help children to be aware of themselves and their potential, so that they can face every challenge in life head on. We help them develop healthy and virtuous relationships with their teachers and peers, so that the school becomes an enabling environment where they can regain possession of their childhood.
The Child Safeguarding and Protection department (CSP) of Still I Rise works to ensure the best socio-educational support to our students in Greece, Turkey, Syria and Kenya. It is led by Valentina Picco, Roman by adoption and specialised in child protection. Valentina has worked for several years in humanitarian projects around the world and joined Still I Rise in May 2021. She is now coordinating an international team, operating in very different countries and contexts, and her task is to define, together with the rest of the staff, a common approach to best meet the needs of our students, both inside and outside schools.
It is paramount that every student benefits of a set of professionals around them who are always listening to their asks, needs and concerns, to prevent that situations of discomfort turn into harmful behaviour for themselves and others. On the other hand, our team also acts outside the school walls, promoting a constructive dialogue with families, the local community and authorities, to foster as much as possible the creation of a healthy environment for the child to grow up in.
Daily challenges and sensitive tasks A CSP officer must be able to actively listen to children and make them feel understood, even if this means taking on some of their pain and sharing their complex and traumatic stories. "Handling the most sensitive issues requires personal and professional lucidity," Valentina says. "You have to know how to deal with pain. In the field, you meet vulnerable children going through family situations and life stages they have no control over, but strongly affect them.”
Within the same school, one often hears similar stories. In Syria, what weighs most heavily on the children is the lingering feeling of insecurity, linked to displacement, bereavement, and the trauma of having to leave their loved ones and possessions behind. In Kenya, students come from high-risk environments, where violence is all too often the order of the day, causing wounds that are difficult to heal, both physically and psychologically. In Greece, on the other hand, the journey each student has had to make is a difficult trauma to overcome, especially if it has been characterised by stops or detentions in places of unmitigated violence and abuse. Then, once in Samos, the feeling of not being in control of their own lives and always being at someone else's mercy is still very strong.
The main goal of CSP's activities is to help students develop their potential to the fullest so that they can learn to cope with a difficult everyday life. One of the tools used are, for example, cooperative games to foster a sense of friendship and trust among the students and prevent bullying.
Valentina explains: “Instead of tackling bullying, we promote activities to strengthen mutual respect and the ability to deal with conflict in a positive way. In this way we can prevent bullying, which is common in all school contexts, and at the same time increase students' trust in school staff, so we can provide a higher level of protection for them."
Offering psychosocial and socio-pedagogical support means focusing on relationships and on how to improve them, thus allowing students to manage more effectively traumatic situations. "To do this best, you need to listen a lot and talk as little as possible. Before acting, it is necessary to train, test oneself and know how to be attentive to others," explains Valentina. "Above all, you need to remember that there are no absolute truths and you need to know how to understand, because only in this way can you transform a vicious circle into a virtuous circle of relationships within a community."
Changing the world from below is also possible by working on relationships and resilience, which, as she pointed out, "is an important and precious asset to cultivate." For this reason, Valentina would like to wish all children to love themselves and their peers as much as possible and cultivate their resilience, because "you cannot erase the past, but you can equip yourself with tools to better manage your traumas, thanks to the positive relationships we build around you."