A wave of positive TeamUp energy across Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan children grow up with the legacy of a bloody civil war. The years of violence have left behind not only visible, but also deep, invisible scars. Our TeamUp program provides children in Sri Lanka guidance and teaches them to deal with others' and their own feelings.
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Today, the children are participating in a TeamUp session. They are running and jumping around, laughing and playing together.

Photo: Jeppe Schilder

Today everything is different

"I've never seen my children like that," says Mala with a big smile on her face. It's Tuesday afternoon, we are on a high school playing field in Batticaloa in Sri Lanka. I am standing next to Mala, and together we're watching her students. "Normally during this last hour of school, the children are tired and have a hard time concentrating. They prefer to sit and chat, and that happens a lot. But today," she says, "everything is different." Today, the children are participating in a TeamUp session. They are running and jumping around, laughing and playing together.

TeamUp throughout Sri Lanka

This secondary school in Batticaloa is one of the locations in Sri Lanka where TeamUp is introducing local partner organizations, trainers and supervisors to its methodology. This week all prospective supervisors are coming together to see the program in action. No long theoretical sessions, but tons of practical experience: learning through experience. It comes as no surprise the TeamUp training principles for this week are: "we do, we model, we care".

“Normally during this last hour of school, the children are tired and have a hard time concentrating. But today, everything is different."
Mala, secondary teacher in Batticaloa, Sri Lanka
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Children in Sri Lanka are growing up with the legacy of a year civil war. Our TeamUp activities give them structure and a change to relax.

Photo: War Child

TeamUp voor kinderen in Sri Lanka

During the TeamUp sessions, children can finally feel young again, leave behind their worries and fully engage in the activities.

Photo: Jeppe Schilder

Practice makes perfect

It is an exciting week for the future trainers and supervisors. They get a change to put everything they have read and observed into practice. Each of them will facilitate a TeamUp session for a group of children between the ages of six and seventeen. As most of them will perform TeamUp sessions at primary and secondary schools, and as an after-school activity in child friendly spaces in villages, this school's playing field in Batticaloa makes an ideal practice location.

Adityan and Nirmala are the first ones up. Yesterday they prepared and practiced the session with colleagues; today they'll work with the group of 14-year-olds with the assistance of two other supervisors. As soon as the children enter the classroom, their nerves ebb. To start things off, Adityan and Nirmala explain the first game they'll play. It proves to be a great ice-breaker. The children start to move and soon the room fills with laughter.

TeamUp voor kinderen in Sri Lanka

The children play with great enthusiasm during the TeamUp session,. Especially the game 'catch-up ball' is popular.

Photo: Jeppe Schilder

Routine creates structure

With the help of TeamUp routines such as certain clapping rhythms, short songs and delineated movements, Adityan and Nirmala set the right tone and create structure within the session. These routines help the children to know when an activity starts and ends, and enables the supervisors to quickly gather and silence the group without having to mandate it.

The next game, 'catch-up ball', proves to be a big hit with the children. With great enthusiasm they encourage each other to throw the ball faster and faster, in order to beat the other team's ball. The first small drops of sweat appear on their smiling faces.

Boundless enthusiasm

Mala is astonished. On her face I detect a mixture of enthusiasm, surprise and joy. Right next to the playing field is a mango tree - no excessive luxury on this sunny, hot day. Underneath the tree are two chairs set up for children looking to have a moment of rest in the shade. Today, however, the shaded seats remain vacant during the TeamUp session.

Colored pawns indicate the boundaries of the playing field, but the enthusiasm (and therefore the players' throws) is limitless. The ball sometimes land on the roof of a shed nearby and dozens of eyes follow the ball until it rolls off, and gets caught again. Occasionally, the mango has to endure the hard smack of a ball, but thankfully the mangos remain up in the tree - for now.

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Not just during the games, but also during the moments of rest, TeamUp facilitators can get a lot of insight into the children and their needs.

Photo: Jeppe Schilder

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Thanks to routines like clapping rhythms, short songs and specific movements, the children know what is going on during the TeamUp session.

Photo: Jeppe Schilder

Non-verbal communication

"As a teacher, I learned something new today," Mala says enthusiastically. I ask her what she is referring to. "We need stop signals and different routines to indicate when an activity starts or ends. I learned that you don't necessarily have to use your voice, but that it actually works better if your movements and actions speak instead."

An observant TeamUp supervisor gets a wealth of information about the children during the games, but especially during moments of rest, demonstration, and instruction. Things like 'How do the children make groups when asked?' and 'Who helps to clear away up the materials?'. Or 'What body postures do children take during a moment of rest?' and 'Does a child help up a classmate who fell?'.

“As a teacher, I learned something new today, namely that you don't necessarily have to use your voice, but that you can let your movements and actions speak."
Mala, secondary teacher in Batticaloa, Sri Lanka
TeamUp voor kinderen in Sri Lanka

When the TeamUp session is over, the children do various breathing exercises and partake in a short evaluation: What did they think of the activities?

Photo: Jeppe Schilder

Positive wind-up

After 45 minutes, the end of the session is in sight. Nirmala and Adityan signal the children to come closer, and they start the wind-up together with the group. First, some breathing exercises followed by a short evaluation of the TeamUp session. After a closing exercise routine, the children thank the supervisors, and then, back in their role as students, they queue up to follow their teacher Mala towards the table for cups of water.

This Tuesday afternoon was a positive change for the students. My hope is that in the future they can end every Tuesday or even better, every day like this. Their teacher Mala tells me that she wants nothing more. "I want to share this with my colleagues, so that we can continue to build a better world." Behind us, the children prepare their things to go home. They talk and laugh. As they exit the school gate, a wave of positive energy flows down and through the streets of Batticaloa.

By: TeamUp trainer Willem Vriend