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Real Faces behind the Stigma

Posted by Didi Gorman on

Many years ago I volunteered at a juvenile delinquent male-only rehabilitation center (ages 16-21) as part of a project promoting literacy for students from disadvantaged circles.

It was the first time I saw in person what it meant to be marginalized. It was a cultural shock. Up until then, I had never met anyone who wasn’t, socially speaking, pretty much a mirror image of myself.

And so I found myself coaching one-on-one sessions of reading, writing, and basic math skills to these disadvantaged students; the hardest challenge being the handling of their profound distrust of strangers.

It was there that I witnessed the repercussions of social rejection, and the painful discrepancy between a person’s potential and their unfavorable circumstances. Suddenly, these were not just some anonymous strangers you heard about in the media, but real people who I grew to care about a great deal. I felt that society had given up on them.

As time went by, a few of them would express interest in other activities I offered during our sessions, in particular creative ones, such as drawing, painting or simple crafts (the kind you make with fabric and yarn; my pompom-making workshop was a hit!). I think they enjoyed exploring a mellower range of activities which did not demand of them the constant keeping up of a tough appearance. As I have learned, beneath the tough looks there often lied a gentler personality, which they had early on learned to conceal.

How come they opened up with me then? Perhaps because I was among the only ones who cared about them, who respected and encouraged them, who did not judge or criticize, who did not make fun of them, who refused to think of them as a lost cause.

I truly cared and they felt it.

Why am I telling you all this?

Because that experience was by far one of the most rewarding I have ever had.

Because I believe in the immense power of kindness.

Because as a writer who has the power of words at her disposal, I feel a duty to tell the story of those students and the many others like them whom I have never had the chance of meeting in person.

They were my gems – the real faces behind the veil of stigma.

By Didi Gorman