15-year-old Teresa Armella and her brothers got a rough start to life. They live with their parents in a marginal neighborhood of Tarija, Bolivia. Her father is an alcoholic and her mother, terminally ill, causing the family to fight constantly. Unable to cope by herself, Teresa fell in with the wrong crowd at school.
She picked fights.
She had increasingly poor school performance.
But in 2017, Teresa’s luck changed. She was presented with an opportunity by her school principal to join a new therapeutic group taking place at the school. Esperança’s Mental Health Promotion Project provides emotional support to the area’s most at-risk youth. Students who participate in these groups are chosen by the principal and faculty based on the behavior they have within the educational unit.
There was only one problem... Teresa didn’t have the grades to be eligible for the program.
“At first, they told us that we’d be working with a psychologist and I did not like the idea of that. But I thought I had to give anything a shot. I had bad friendships and felt that things were getting worse for me.”
So Teresa worked over the next few months to improve her grades enough to be reconsidered, and eventually, accepted into the program.
The therapeutic group places an emphasis on the prevention of gender-based violence with the objective being to empower participants to become aware of their behaviors and recognize their emotional limitations so that they can change their mindset before an outburst occurs.
The group meets two to three times a month. Participants engage in educational activities, share with their classmates what they have been working on, and spread the word to prevent violence in the school environment.
“At the beginning, I didn't like to participate because my classmates would fight. There was a lot of division and jealousy in the group…we couldn't stop fighting. As time went by, we began to respect each other. We each had our own story. The girls are behaving better, and I am changing.”
Likewise, when we asked her about what she contributed in the groups, she told us “… little by little I became interested in everything I learned, it helped me realize my mistakes and improve the relationship with my family”, there were a few tears of emotion as she continues “I’ve realized that I must take responsibility for my problems. That I must be a better daughter, understand my mother, forgive my father, and try to get along with my brothers. I realized that I must stay away from bad friendships.”
“The therapy groups have helped me become resilient, to overcome problems, learn from problems, instead of sinking and causing more problems. Thank you, Esperança, for the help you give to young people like me.”
Learn more about Esperança's work in Bolivia
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