Initiative employs uncommon strategy to stop bullying in schools

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Rakiya A.Muhammad

The contrite secondary student wore a gloomy expression as she recalls how her constant bullying provoked pain in many. Senior Emmanuella was an infamous bully at a high school in a slum part of Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.

She was inconsiderate of other people’s feelings, aggressively dominating and intimidating schoolfellows. Her callous attitude repelled many who maintained their safe distance from her.

However, Emmanuella began her transformation into a thoughtful personality in an empathic celebration of kindness in school. It was a great kick-start to a change that would inspire her to embrace a compassionate lifestyle.

She elevates a marked change in character from unsympathetic to caring by easing the physical, mental, and emotional pain. “The program has inspired me to have concern for the right and feelings of others,” she says, declaring, “I do not bully anymore.” Bullying has remained a significant concern across the globe.

The International Bureau of Education cites the commonly accepted definition of bullying by Dan Olweus, creator of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program.

“A person is bullied when he or she is exposed repeatedly and over time to negative actions on the part of one or more other persons, and he or she has difficulty defending himself or herself.”

According to a UNESCO Global Status Report on School Violence and Bullying, one in three children experiences bullying. “Available data from all regions show 32 per cent of students have been bullied in some form by their peers at school one or more days in the past month,” it notes

But the picture is darker in the sub-Sahara African region, in which the report indicates recorded the highest prevalence of bullying at 48.2%, and the highest prevalence of bullying in both boys (47.7%) and girls (50.5%)

It adds that Sub-Sahara Africa also has the highest proportion of students reporting being bullied on six or more days in the previous month (11.3%). One of the only two regions-North America is the other-where girls report a higher prevalence of bullying than boys.

“Many people, especially children, experience bullying, which often leads to psychological and emotional trauma and low self-esteem, “notes Blessing Bassey-Archibong an advocate for child wellbeing and initiator of the Kindness Project that has trained 7,202 schoolchildren, among whom Emmanuella.

Blessing struggles to understand why empathy and kindness are not usually people’s first reactions towards others. She noticed how cruel people could be from personal experience and
people’s experiences.

“As a child-focused organisation that advocates for children and supports their development, we identified bullying as a major problem that inhibits the all-around development of children,” Blessing reveals.

“We have been working concertedly to contribute our quota to solving this problem. We do this by developing and implementing impactful social projects and programmes designed to instil the virtue of kindness in people as a culture, especially in the younger
generation.”

She describes children as the continuity of every society. “They will play critical roles that will impact our future and the generations yet to come. When we intentionally teach them about empathy and kindness, we are investing in them for the good of everyone,” she points out.

“That’s why we @TheBlessingBasseyFoundation are intentional about modelling and teaching them the culture of kindness.” Blessing elucidates:” While most charities focus on the immediate needs of vulnerable children and people, we are trying to do things a bit differently; that’s why our programs go beyond the traditional intervention.”

“We are actively working to change the mindset of children so they could embrace the culture of kindness because we strongly believe that educating the next generation is a preventive action that will.hopefully minimise and eventually end bullying and violence.”

The kindness initiative involves visiting schools to teach children about humanity and celebrate thoughtful children and teachers. The recognition of such kind students aims to inspire others to embrace the culture of compassion. The project enlightens children about bullying and its effects, such
as low self-esteem.

To pass the message more effectively, it infuses the message into songs that children learn to sing in the most pleasurable way, offering higher chances for them to remember the teachings than speeches that seem to bore them easily.

Also, they learn how to speak up for themselves and report any form of bullying to their teachers or school authority. Since teachers hold much power over their students, the project encourages them to teach compassionately.

It was surprising for Master Sani, a pupil in the FCT, when his name came up as the kindest boy in his school. “I felt pure joy recognised in front of the entire school for something good,” he stated while
receiving the award amidst thunderous applaud.

“I never knew that people appreciated kind individuals, as most in my class consider me as a soft boy. Though they had bullied me a lot, I am very encouraged to keep being kind.”

The event boosted his resolve as it provided an avenue to enlighten everyone that kindness is not a weakness but a strength and one of the most potent superpowers.
14-year-old Joy also shares her experience: “I was mentally and verbally bullied, and that had a massive impact on my self-esteem.”

“To mask that, I became a bully myself. But when the kindness project came to my school and enlightened us about bullying, empathy and kindness, I decided to change and become kind-hearted”.

For Emmanuella, not only has she started being considerate, but she also wants to receive the kindest girl award. Today, the hitherto ‘unfeeling aggressor’ is a warm-hearted fellow who now has friends. “I feel a sense of belonging,” she declares.

For teachers, the project makes them realise their power to influence the lives of their students as their words form a child’s subconscious mind and could become their inner voice.

“The intervention has helped them curb one of the biggest challenges within my school community which is – bullying,” says the headteacher at a primary school in Karon Magiji. “The message of kindness and hope has deeply inspired many.”

Also, Hajia Fatima, an Assistant Head Teacher of Government school, Lingu, states: “I would never forget what they told my colleagues and me about the power of kindness in education.”

“I learnt that being kind to children and correcting them with love is more effective and produces better results.” A classroom teacher, Ms Sharon, admitted that she often sees her student’s unkind part. “I am happy to see the excellent work of reminding us that kindness matters.”

A few days after the program in his school Mallam Abdul had a cold, and a boy from his class gave him a get well soon card at school.

The gesture was a first of its kind, and it came as a pleasant surprise. “It got me teary as I had never received a gift or anything from my pupils in my years of teaching,” he reveals.

For her part, Ms Susan from Government School Galadima has seen a remarkable transformation in her class since receiving the gospel of kindness at her school.

Another teacher, Mrs Okon, adds, “In my 17 years of teaching, I saw no organisation come to the schools I have taught in to preach kindness to the children and celebrate kind people (children and teachers) to
encourage them and inspire others.”

She suggests the message of kindness taken to all schools. “The program is unique and capable of making an enormous difference.”

According to the initiators since 2015, the kindness projects successfully impacted 11,000 lives directly and 14,000 lives indirectly within and outside of Nigeria.

“We are thankful for the inspiring results and the success stories we hear and read. Most importantly, we are thankful for the honour to help children and teachers realise the value of kindness and its ripple effects,” Blessing states.

“We are most grateful that now bullies have embraced empathy and kindness. Not just that, they have grown into compassionate and responsible ambassadors of kindness, which is what every school community needs.”

However, despite the positive impact of the concept, some show unwelcoming attitudes toward such initiatives; others have large egos, hard for them to view things from a place of compassion rather than
frustration and anger; a situation that obstructs the visibility of the kindness crusade.

“Nigerians have a dismissive attitude towards the concept of deliberate kindness to outsiders, not because they lack the ability to be kind, but because this kind of kindness campaign is generally seen as a foreign idea for some,” the compassion crusader admits.

“Others are overwhelmed by their problems and cannot find enough reasons to be kind to others, and some others feel that their kindness will be seen as a sign of weakness and taken for granted or used against them.”

Public affairs analyst Aliyu Ahmed describes bullying and other school-related violence as infringing on children’s and adolescents’ right to education and health and wellbeing.

He says redressing the menace is essential to achieve the sustainable development goal of inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.

SOURCED: UNESCO

Also, the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence Against Children observes that the violence children endure is cumulative and interlinked and often spans from home life, school, community, and the online world.

He, however, reiterates, “a global promise has been made to the world’s children: the violence they face would be brought to an end by the year 2030.”

“This binding promise has emerged from a decade-long process that has reshaped the way in which we view children.”

According to the UNESCO report, almost half of the 71 countries and territories studied have recorded success stories in the fight against bullying and other school-related violence.

 “These countries have a number of successful factors in common, notably a commitment to promoting a safe and positive school climate and classroom environment, effective systems for reporting and
monitoring school violence and bullying, evidence-based programmes and interventions, training and support for teachers, support and referral for affected students, student empowerment and participation.”

A parent, Rahma Rufai, accentuates the need for more commitment to tackle school violence and bullying.
She notes the kindness program as a viable response but suggests that such an initiative requires concerted awareness campaigns to gain acceptance.

Nonetheless, Blessing is keen to see the message of kindness spread around Nigeria, underscoring it as a powerful resort capable of bringing out the best in humanity.

“We encourage individuals, other charities, religious institutions, schools, communities, government and even private organisations to embrace kindness in their activities,” she says.

“Charities can integrate kindness outreaches in their projects; schools can teach kindness as a curriculum; private organisations and government can support kind initiatives. There are ample opportunities for everyone to get involved with kindness, and that is what we hope to see in the near future.”

She adds, “we imagined a world where everyone is entangled in empathy, totally absorbed in altruism and spreading kindness like wildfire to curb bullying and cruelness.”

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