Ten years ago, a small team of international trainers walked up a red clay path and entered a classroom in Kigali, Rwanda. Inside sat fifty pastors, teachers, caregivers, Sunday school leaders, and nonprofit workers who would become the first-ever participants of the Celebrating Children Workshop.
The month-long workshop was the product of two and a half years of labor, converting a highly academic curriculum into a holistic, multi-layered training that adequately addressed the needs of those who care for children at risk.
“Rwanda was key for us in knowing where to go next, how to truly create [the CCW],” explained Janna Moats, founder of Loom and a key contributor to the curriculum. “Up to then it was almost like a draft. It was the actual experience of teaching for that month and hearing from people and what they responded to that strengthened our understanding of where to go from there.”
From this first training in Rwanda emerged the key elements of the CCW that would carry it through the next ten years of presentation on four continents and in many different languages, as well as several major revisions. Of those elements, perhaps the most critical was the emphasis on focusing on the whole person. This included the way a learning environment was set up, the creative teaching tools used, and the incorporation of art and laughter as well as up-to-date science.
“The pain of people is something that made an impression on us. Rwanda confirmed how important [art] was in integration, modeling how to work with children,” said Janna about their intentional modeling of holistic learning. “We didn’t realize [until later] how all of those pieces together caused mutual trust to develop.”
“I always am a little shocked that people trust us to the point they do. They let us speak into their lives, and they try to follow it. And it can’t just be because you gave them information. Someone spoke to the whole person.”
The focus on the value of the individual, particularly the child and its context in community, has also been a core value of the CCW since the beginning. This is especially evident through the Circles of Protection, a teaching tool created around the question, “What are God’s intentions for children?” Research shows that when we structure families and communities around the best interest of the child, everybody benefits. This is what we mean by “the child in the middle.”
“What has always remained true: we do this for the smallest, the least noticed,” emphasized Heather Wood, who was part of the team creating the curriculum and has taught in nearly every Loom-sponsored CCW since then.
“We teach for life change. We’re always trying to figure out: what do caregivers need? The power of what we teach comes from doing it ourselves, and seeing that it works. Once people that use it in their daily life get ahold of it, they can’t help but pass it on.”
Throughout the past ten years, it has been our joy to see the multiplication of the CCW in many different creative contexts. Our trust in these social innovators is part of our conviction that they will take what they learned and not just pass it on, but make it better.
This was particularly evident to us during our most recent trip to East Africa, where Loom led a Facilitators Training for past graduates of the CCW. Each of the twenty-five participants had been using what they learned to train other parents, teachers, caregivers, or community leaders in a variety of ways. These graduates had absorbed the material, and now they could contextualize it to best communicate it to those in their community.
“When they taught each other, I saw light bulbs going on,” Heather reflected on the Facilitator Training. “I saw [again] the value of learning from the Local Expert.”
“I wanted to run my own Celebrating Children’s Workshop after I completed it in 2016,” said Karen Del Rio, a social innovator working in South Africa who attended a CCW in Switzerland. “The information changed my life yes- it changed the way I served kids, saw kids, and interacted with them. I wanted everyone on my team back home to have that same knowledge.”
Sypora Achieng, Loom’s Early Childhood Education Service Coordinator and a participant at the Facilitator Training, shared how she uses what she learned from the CCW to train teachers. “It’s not just about getting teachers the right training and outward forms of teaching,” she said. “It’s about the heart, and the teacher connecting to the heart of the child. Then they will understand what that child needs to succeed.”
So what is next for the Celebrating Children Workshop? In the coming months, we will continue pairing facilitators with a Loom coach who can help them take the next steps in contextualizing it to their community. These core values of holistic integration, valuing the individual, learning from the local culture, and making space for celebration and laughter continue to be the guiding lights that point the way for all of us. More than anything, we want to see these principles in the hands of local people who will create new models and live them out in their own contexts and cultures.
“From the very beginning, the vision has always been that it would be multipliable,” reflected Heather. “We’ve never let go of this dream. And now we are seeing it come true.”
“And we also benefit from it,” adds Janna. “[These relationships] change our lives equally.”
“It’s fascinating how CCW became the catalyst for how Loom works. It embodies in a four-week training who we want to be, and how we work.”