Francistown Teen Club: A Day of Remembrance and Reflection

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The following post is courtesy of Agatha Offorjebe, a Princeton-in-Africa Volunteer at the Botswana-Baylor Children’s Clinical Centre of Excellence:

A Francistown Teen Club member working on his "picture story" during a session on grief and bereavement. Photo courtesy of Ed Pettitt.

Francistown Teen Club: A Day of Remembrance and Reflection

On 11th September 2009, after being in Botswana for exactly a month and a half, I finally made my first excursion to Botswana’s second-largest city, Francistown, along with my Baylor Clinic colleagues Ed, Ntobeledzi and Bakani. While I was excited to embark on this new adventure, the circumstances around our trip were quite unfortunate. Three weeks prior to our departure we were informed that Kuda, one the Francistown Teen Club members, had passed away. He had been active in Teen Club, excellent at school and well loved by those who knew him. It was shocking to hear the Teen Club family had lost such a wonderful young man. Given the Francistown Teen Club’s loss, we decided to create a grief and bereavement session for their next Teen Club event. We also planned a memorial service for Kuda.

With the help of two Francistown teens we developed a schedule for the memorial service. I was then tasked to develop the curriculum for the grief and bereavement session. I spent the next two weeks doing an extensive literature review on grief and bereavement in adolescents. After consulting with my colleagues at Baylor, we decided to do a picture-story exercise in which the teens would draw pictures about a traumatizing event or loss such as the death of a loved one, or even disclosure of their HIV status. As we made our way to Francistown, I spent much of the six-hour bus ride (it should have been five hours, but then one of the tires on the bus blew out), thinking about how the teens would receive the activity we had planned for them, especially since the morning of Teen Club would be the first time many of them would find out about Kuda’s death. In addition, Bakani, one of our social workers at Baylor, mentioned that, in the Setswana language, there were no words for grief and bereavement, and that she would have to string together a number of words and phrases in order to explain the concepts.

Friday afternoon quickly turned into the Saturday morning of Teen Club. That morning, my colleagues and I packed up our supplies for the afternoon and made our way to the Light and Courage Centre, where the monthly Francistown Teen Club meetings are held. Upon our arrival we were greeted by some early arrivals and other Teen Club volunteers as we began to unpack and set up our supplies. Soon, most of the teens and volunteers had arrived and we began the icebreakers lead by Kings Foundation volunteers. After this, Bakani and Ntobeledzi explained the purpose of the day’s session, and we broke up into our small groups. With the help of Bakani, and my Teen Leader counterpart, I explained the activity to our group. We asked the teens to first think about a painful or traumatizing event, and then to draw a picture about the time they were happy just before that event. This picture was drawn in the first of nine panels. Next, in the last panel, we asked the teens to draw a picture of the first time they were happy after the traumatizing event or loss. We then asked the teens to draw the actual traumatizing event in the middle panel. From there, they were asked to fill in the gaps in the remaining panels, drawing pictures of events leading up to the traumatizing event or loss, and pictures of the moments after it.

Bakani and I walked around as our group members completed the activity. Some moved rapidly from panel to panel, while others labored over each drawing. At the end of the activity we asked if anyone wanted to present his or her comic. After a couple of volunteers took their turn the group began to prepare poems, drawings, and letters that were going to be used during the memorial service for Kuda. At this time Bakani took notice of one of my teens and pulled him aside. This teen had been taking the activity very seriously, and it seemed he had wanted to speak up during the presentation time but was a little unsure. Bakani took him aside asked if he wanted to present his story to her. After he told Bakani the story in his picture comic, he spoke more openly about the other loses he had experienced in this life. Bakani spoke to him briefly and he returned to the group seemingly more at peace and ready to carry on with the next activity.

The teens completed their messages for Kuda’s memory box and the memorial service went on as planned. It was touching, and a bit tearful, as the teens talked about the friend they had lost and lit candles in his name. I was so moved by the sorrow I saw in the teens, that I have to admit I nearly shed a few tears that afternoon, even though I had never met Kuda. After the memorial service we had lunch, said our good-byes, and made our way back to the hotel.

The ride home was a long one, full of deep thought and reflection, as I recalled the Teen Club activities of the previous afternoon. While I felt that the activity we had done was a difficult one, I believed it was important in allowing the teens to begin to process the events they had experienced. In all, I was touched by the candor and sincerity of these teens, most of whom I had never met before. But, more than anything, I was humbled by the lessons of courage they had taught me that warm Saturday afternoon.