For the first session of “Fun Time with Father,” I dumped an assortment of stuffed animals and photographs cut from magazines on the floor, with the girls seated in a circle. I drew a large “+” sign on a paper, which I placed to one side. We would go around the circle, taking turns. Each girl was to select one object or picture from the middle, hold it up so all could see, and then say, “I like this [photo or animal] because….”
Once we had done that, I placed a large “-“ sign on the opposite side of the circle, and again we went around, each person selecting a new object and declaring, “I don’t like this [object] because….”
Next we removed all the unselected photos and animals from the middle. We then began a collaborative story. I started by picking up one of the animals, giving it a name, and saying a few sentences. I handed the animal to the next person in the circle, who was to choose one of the available pictures or objects and incorporate that into the story. We went around once, then a second time, and after the last person had completed the story, we all clapped for one another.
It amazed me how much I could see personality differences in the girls through how they participated. Some of the story segments were goofy, and we giggled. Some girls took delight in adding an unexpected plot twist, to create a dilemma for the next person to solve. Others had a hard time thinking of anything to say, so they asked one of our colleagues to help. Others made sure to choose the object they had already named as their favorite, to put it into the story in the way they desired.
The girls seemed to like making up the story together, and asked if we could do it all over again. So we got out all the photos and animals that hadn’t been selected in the first place, and used those to tell a second story.
My colleagues later told me that one of the girls began to speak aloud in the group session for the first time. Previously, she had been too shy or too tongue-tied to share. The props served as prompts to give ideas, which made the task easier.
Another girl, who is from a faraway region, struggled to communicate in Hindi, but we could all tell that she had definite ideas, and one of our team members who speak her mother tongue translated her contribution into Hindi as she created it. All in all, we had the satisfaction of working as a group and producing something different than any of us would have made on our own. No one lost; we all won together.
A few weeks later, one of the girls asked our teacher, “When will Father do another session?”
“Did you like it?” my colleague asked.
“Oh, yes. Here at Courage Homes we’re always being reminded of the prostitution that occurred, as the police come and ask questions about it, or we have to go to court and talk about it, or in Life Skills we are warned about it, or we have counseling sessions to recover from it. I get so tired of thinking about such a heavy subject. Father’s session was a relief, because we didn’t talk about anything important, but we had fun together.”
Indeed, that may be one of the best gifts any parent could give their child: Just the simple pleasure of hanging out together, being silly and making up something together. Since then, I have led a second session (which included sketching pictures out of funny squiggles and collaborative drawing). Now that I can see that this low-key “Time with Father” contributes to the overall balance of life at Courage Homes, I’m inspired to create more sessions for the girls.