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Monday 23 October 2017
Features

Safe Zone: Making an Army of Empowered Girls

Faith Wong recieving her Safe Zone Diploma from Fantasy Carnival's Ian Royer and Shannon Hutchinson at the programme's graduation ceremony at the YMCA, Wrightson Road, Port of Spain, on Saturday July 15, 2017.

What children learn during their adolescent years will determine the kind of adult they become.

That is why Brittney Nadur developed the Safe Zone programme, to send out an army of strong, empowered, self-assured women with good values into the world. She said many leaders and authority figures were stuck in their ways so it made no sense trying to change them. Instead, she said people should focus on guiding adolescents.

Nadur, the Safe Zone Advisor and Programme Director at Young Men’s Christian Association of Trinidad and Tobago (YMCA), said she noticed that by the time children enter secondary school, parents seem to take a more “hands-off” approach to raising them, assuming they would figure things out on their own.

“At the end of the day they want information. They want to know what’s going on. A lot of information is not given to them by parents and they end up getting it from the wrong place. Then before you can even introduce good information to them, they are already corrupted.”

She said she was motivated to create the programme after her first year at the University of the West Indies (UWI) where she majored in Psychology with minors in Criminology; and Social Policy, Planning and Development.

She said when she started UWI she had many friends but soon realised their morals and values were not similar to hers. She said if she did not have a strong base, she would have done things she would have regretted later.

She said she always thought differently to other girls she knew, which she considered a gift from God. Studying psychology helped her understood herself better and she left UWI with a passion for juveniles.

She decided to share her gift with other girls by creating a guidance programme to help in the development of the way girls think. And so she recently completed the three-month Safe Zone programme which saw six young women graduate.

Why girls?

“Firstly, I chose girls because I can relate to them. Secondly, the way I see it is that, at the end of the day, a guy would always want a woman and a guy will always do what he has to do to get what he wants. If the girls set their standards high and the guys are really interested, they will have no choice but to up their game to match those standards. So you cancel out the people who are not worth your time, or a guy would realise there is something about this girl they want, and improve themselves.”

SAY WHAT?

Nadur told Sunday Newsday the programme was designed to equip girls with knowledge about the changes, decisions, pressures, dangers and more that come along with adolescence.

Some of the topics include family and friends; teenage relationships – sexuality, choosing a partner, how to deal with breakups; drugs and alcohol; social media and the internet; discrimination, prejudice, and stereotyping; pro-social behaviour; identity; puberty – physical, as well as judgement, consequence, and reason; mental and physical health and lifestyle; a well as achievement, self-esteem, and self-empowerment.

She said they now understand that while they had no control over the type of father they have, they could control the kind of person they want to be the father in their children. She also told the girls that, while an adult brain was usually fuelled by reason and logic, a teenaged brain was fuelled by emotions. Therefore many of the bad decisions they made was based on emotions and a lack of knowledge.

“A lot of topics were very uncomfortable but the whole point of Safe Zone is that it is an opportunity to talk when your parents are not there, they have no consequences, they can speak freely and they have honest, good advice.”

Nadur said she explained to the parents her intentions and discussed the topics she would cover in advance. She said many of the parents were actively involved in the process and implemented the recommendations she suggested.

She said the parents trusted her and worked with her because the programme discussed issues parents may not have been comfortable broaching with their children, or may not have had enough information to properly convey the material. She said they cared about their children and wanted results so they were open with her and gave her support, especially when they saw the positive changes in their children.

RESULTS

Nadur said the girls enjoyed speaking freely and that they empowered themselves to the point where they were not ashamed to speak about certain topics because they realised they had a right to do so and were now knowledgeable enough to contribute to certain conversations.

She said their temperament changed for the good, and their thinking was more indepth and analytical so that they no longer accepted things at face value. She said they became more comfortable with who they were, acknowledged their issues, and recognised that if they made bad decisions in the future, it would not be because of ignorance.

“People around them, movies, tv shows and social media can no longer make them question who they are. They are aware of themselves, they know their personalities, they know their weaknesses and strong points, and they know their non-negotiables.”

She noted that the six girls who graduated from the programme all came from different backgrounds but they were all supportive of each other. “They realised and found comfort in the fact that, although they might not be going through exactly the same things, their issues were similar.”

“I learned from those girls just as they learned from me. I look up to them – how strong they are, how they forgave themselves and how they changed the course they were on.”

One of these girls was 13-year-old Solangé Morales.

She said her family was not close-knit so she did not want to talk to them about what she was going through. However, she said, at Safe Zone she met people who really cared about her and would always be there for her.

“I was willing to try anything that would help me get over my issues. I went to a few therapist and there was no change... Before Safe Zone I always had this box of emotion that I would always keep inside but after going to Brittney in a private session, I was able to tell her everything because she was an understanding person. I can now open up to different people and my whole life got better. I was happier. I was more confident in myself.”

She said even her school friends noticed the difference in her personality and she recommended the programme to any parent who was unable to have certain conversations with their daughters. However she warned that the child must want to go or else they would get nothing from it.

Another graduate was Faith Wong, 14, who said Safe Zone helped build her self-esteem as well as helped her with her anxiety. She said her self esteem was very low and she was shy. Now however, she is more confident and willing to try things that she was afraid to do, including speaking in public.

She also said she used to give up easily when things got difficult. Now, when she decides to do something, she would put her mind to it and get it done.

She said Safe Zone also helped her avoid making a possible mistake. She said she was interested in having a relationship with someone but the session on relationships discussed the things she would look for in a partner. However, after setting her standards in what she would want in a boyfriend, she realised he was not the best fit for her.

After such positive results, Nadur said there had been requests for her to crate a Safe Zone for boys, as well as to hold one in south, and that some secondary schools were interested.

She said she would like to have three Safe Zones per year but that corporate sponsorship was necessary to help it continue to make a difference in the lives of adolescents.

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