"I am here in Rwanda attending the 2019 Women's Leaders in Global Health Conference! The break out sessions and keynote speakers all have a focus on empowerment and resiliency, not just for women and girls but for all refugees and those who have been forcibly displaced. I have used Green Bay Sail and Paddle as an example of promoting both often because of the opportunities you gave to COMSA and the United ReSisters over the last summer.
I will say that the idea I had to combine two of my favorite things in life did not go over as smoothly as I had originally hoped. Sailing with GBSP and Somali friends are two things my family thoroughly enjoys and it only seemed like a natural choice to bring the two together. Because I was teaching in the COMSA summer school program I applied for scholarships so that all of the classes could have the opportunity to have a sailing experience. Green Bay Sail and Paddle did not hesitate and awarded us three full sessions, one for each of the age groups.
The tricky part was getting the buy in from the Somali Families. Please do not minimize the importance of making sure a parent understands what you want to offer their child! Could you imagine going to a foreign land and having a group tell you they want to take your child on a grand adventure and it was in a language you did not understand and something you yourself had never done?!?!? These parents were brave and strong to question our motives! But we needed their signatures of consent. After much interpreting and translating even then we had parents who did not want their children to be exposed to what in their minds could be a dangerous situation. As a school social worker who has done work with this community I could empathize with why they made that decision! They had already survived so much, they have already had to set so many boundaries to keep their children safe from harm. This may have been too much to ask of them, but I had a feeling that it would work and GBSP believed in it too. They knew that sailing could be healing because many in our own community find it therapeutic!
We finally had 20 kids whose families gave us permission to try it. None of them had ever been on a boat. None of them could conceptualize that they were going to get to sail on a boat themselves. When we pulled up most of the kids thought we were going to stand in a circle and learn about sail boats. Once life jackets were fitted their smiles got wider and they inched closer and closer to the boats. The instructors were captivating and knowledgeable and wonderfully responsible in regard to cultural sensitivity, language, expression, and timing. They waited until all the kids were ready and then helped them on the boats. I have never seen the kids be happier. It was two hours of pure joy. The dimples, the missing teeth smiles, the shrieks of laughter, and shouts of joy were all that could be seen or heard.
Then they never stopped talking about it. For the next couple of weeks the conversation between the parents, students and COMSA revolved around sailing. Some families did not know that this was a fresh water lake. Somalia has a long coast line of ocean so this was a very interesting subject to many of their parents. They have a keen interest in fishing! They wanted to learn a lot more about the great lakes. Some parents listened captively and then translated for the other parents to explain where Green Bay was on lake Michigan. One student began drawing and painting and writing about the lake he just sailed and the seas of his childhood. More parents began asking if their child could sail as well.
By the time our next sailing session came we had almost 30 new Somali students wanting to sail and parents came to watch the lesson. By the end of the next sailing session, a father who had previously had his doubts about his kids attending this outing had fully changed his mind and was engaged in full on conversations with the instructors about how he could charter a fishing boat for his family.
This is a new life here in Green Bay for many Somali Families. Those three experiences with your non profit gave them the courage to try something new. It empowered the parents to be able to make trusting, informed decisions about how their children spend time in a new culture and in a new community. It empowered the kids to learn a skill that was in nature, breathing fresh air, encouraging them to learn new things, and feel good about it.
Thank you for letting them do this surrounded by their friends and family. Thank you for working with us to ensure that it was such a positive experience. Thank you for modeling what mentorship and support look like from Green Bay to a new population of families who are learning how to create a new normal for themselves. This is what promotes resilience! Exposure and access to sport, play, and healthy environments can all be the protective factors for these kids and their families so thank you for these opportunities and I hope our COMSA/ Sailing adventure continues on next summer. "
- Katie S. - COMSA Representative