Happiness is Just Around the Corner?


Happiness is Just Around the Corner?

What does well-being mean to you? Is it having a happy family? Or is it having well-behaved children? Do you hold the keys to it?

According to the Hong Kong Family Well-being Survey Report 2018, Hong Kong families have a relatively positive overall score of 72 points, which is measured under the domains of Family Interaction, Parenting, Emotional Well-being and Material Well-being. 34% of those interviewed say they hope their family members would listen more, while 25% express a desire to communicate more with their family members to support and help them relieve stress. Undoubtedly, it is a common belief that family is the greatest source of well-being.

A Source of Love and Pain

As a fortress of well-being, family shelters us when we grow, allowing us to pursue our dreams and relationships, start a new family and pass on the family values and virtues. Yet we all know that well-being is never guaranteed. As the saying goes, each family has its own problems, and there is a wide range of them. There are numerous books and courses on family education, flooding us with all sorts of theories and formulas on raising a child, but isn’t it easier said than done?

Family education is a lifelong process of learning, because family still has an influence on us even when we become old. Generally speaking, parents and grandparents are also our mentors, shaping us into who we are with their words, deeds, knowledge and habits. Therefore, while parents and grandparents can make children into better people, they can also leave a negative impact, or even indelible marks of pain.

A 2017 UNICEF report, A Familiar Face: Violence in the lives of children and adolescents, points out that children may experience violence even in a familiar setting like their homes. One of the more shocking figures shows that three quarters of our world’s children aged between two and four, about 300 million, experience psychological aggression and/or physical punishment by their parents and caregivers. In certain social contexts, parents and caregivers also tend to resort to violence, both corporal and psychological, while attempting to teach children self-control and proper behaviour. The use of violence is sometimes a response by parents and caregivers out of anger and frustration, in other cases it is due to a lack of understanding of its harmful effects, or simply not knowing how to discipline children in non-violent ways.

To face violent discipline in a setting where they ought to be protected often brings children the longest and greatest pain, especially as they cannot understand the motives of their parents and caregivers. Currently, only 60 countries in the world have adopted legislation that fully outlaws the use of corporal punishment against children at home, which leaves over 600 million children under the age of five without full legal protection. Moreover, about one in every four parents and caregivers in the world is in favour of the use of corporal punishment in educating children. Is violent discipline really a viable and effective way of parenting?

Becoming a Fountain of Joy

We believe that the key to providing children with a place of well-being lies in the thoughts and deeds of parents or caregivers. That is why World Vision developed and started promoting the Celebrating Families project model in 2011. This seeks to ensure that families, especially the most vulnerable ones, enjoy positive and loving relationships and are able to have hope and a vision for the future. It also aims to support families as being places that allow children to experience the love of God by addressing beliefs, convictions and cultures that contribute to harmful attitudes, norms, values and practices of raising children.

Through the three-and-a-half-day Celebrating Families workshop series, parents and caregivers learn about the importance for children to be in a safe environment where they feel loved and are free to discover God. The workshops consist of four modules.

  1. Addressing the Past
    Parents and caregivers are invited to look back at their past to identify experiences that may influence their parenting, as well as things of the past that remain unhealed and may have hindered them from having loving relationships with their family members.

  2. Recognising the Present
    Parents and caregivers clarify and recognise each family member’s identity, roles and individual realities. They learn to appreciate one another, as well as the importance of forgiveness in restoring broken relationships.

  3. Envisioning the Future
    Parents and caregivers are educated on the different elements needed to strengthen families and be prepared for the future. This includes understanding children’s different life stages and age-appropriate ways of relating with them.

  4. Pursuing Our Dreams
    The final step for parents is to make a covenant of love with children, seek God’s blessings and apply what they have learnt in the workshops in their daily family life.

While the workshops mainly target parents and guardians, we highly value children’s thoughts and actual needs. While planning for the activities, children are invited to express their thoughts and suggest how they would like to participate, ensuring that parents and guardians fully listen to their views. After attending the workshops, World Vision and partnering stakeholders, such as parent groups and churches will follow up with activities to ensure parents and guardians are able to establish a loving and safe environment for children.

As of 2016, the Celebrating Families project model has been implemented in more than 700 World Vision Area Development Programmes (ADP) across East Asia, Middle East, Eastern Europe, Latin America and Africa, while also reaching socio-politically unstable places, such as Afghanistan and Iraq, where families may release some of the pressure brought by instability onto their children.

Is Well-being Easy to Attain?

Bernadette is a mother of five in Rwanda. She is a World Vision volunteer who actively takes part in the development of her community. Recalling her personal change in behaviour towards her children, she says, “Every morning I would report at the project, leaving my children at home with assigned activities. Unfortunately, when I go home exhausted, I would quarrel, beat and abuse my children without asking them about the struggles and trials that they have gone through. However, at the Celebrating Families workshops, I have learnt how to treat my children and take care of them for their well-being. I have come to understand the role parents play in the pursuit of children’s spiritual nurture and well-being, as well as how I can support my family towards wholeness. I will never beat nor abuse my children again!”

Stress from work and a lack of understanding of children’s thoughts and difficulties are common obstacles of well-being for families. Thanks to the Celebrating Families workshops, parents have begun to put themselves in other family members’ shoes and respect everyone’s roles, identity and individual realities.

Living in Cambodia, 13-year-old Kdeb used to suffer the consequences of domestic violence. Her father, a carpenter by trade, used to return home drunk. He would yell at her mother, even pushing her against a pillar, causing her to lose consciousness. “I was traumatised and shocked when I saw them fight. I didn’t want him to drink and I didn’t want him to oppress my mother,” Kdeb tearfully recalls. Witnessing violence turned Kdeb into a silent and joyless child, as she constantly heard her father’s screams. “When my parents got into an argument, I would try to stop them, but they would not listen to me. When they fought, I did not want to study anymore,” she says.

Things finally got better when Kdeb’s father fell ill and reduced alcohol consumption. When he saw that many couples in the village were attending the Celebrating Families workshops, he became curious and took part in it, which became a turning point and the start of reconciliation. “Now I understand that using violence is harmful, it makes my children scared of going to school. When I drank, I could not earn enough money to support their education. I was uneducated, so I want my children to study and find the best jobs in the future. I have also stopped drinking to bring joy to my family,” he says. Now, Kdeb’s father speaks softly to his children and wife and Kdeb is now attending school regularly. Drinking and domestic violence often hinder a family’s well-being, but with adequate education, families can still come together and rebuild a future of mutual trust and well-being.

A Force to Be Reckoned with

Grandparents also have an important role to play in the family. As the Chinese idiom goes, “to have an elderly person at home is like having a treasure.” Not only can they help take care of the grandchildren, they also offer good advice and training on family affairs to young women in the community. In some developing countries, a grandmother can even be a lot more influential than men. Therefore, World Vision has been running Grandmother Projects in these regions to empower grandmothers and enhance communication between grandmothers and young parents. This has helped strengthen understanding and social cohesion within families and communities.

Katta of Sierra Leone first gave birth at the age of 17 but lost her child to diarrhoea two months later. “I was only a young girl who totally lacked experience to raise a baby,” says Katta. “So, I did whatever I was told. But apart from the age, a lot of women more mature than me had issues raising their babies too. We were only following traditional practices.”

Katta recalls that “many children were dying in the community, a lot of mothers also had complications while giving birth and died”. Adequate nutrition during pregnancy, infancy and early childhood is vital to ensure optimal growth, development and survival of children. Children affected by malnutrition often die of preventable and easily curable diseases, such as diarrhoea and pneumonia. Those who survive are prone to illnesses, which limits their education and income earning opportunities. Young women with a history of malnutrition tend to have greater difficulty in childbirth and give birth to smaller babies, thereby perpetuating a cycle of malnutrition. This is where grandmothers can come in to help and share their invaluable experiences, as well as providing support during pregnancy, labour, delivery and the postpartum period. They are indeed indispensable in the promotion of maternal and infant health and nutrition.

Katta now has another son, who has just turned one. She believes that it is all down to the help of a project known as Mamanieva, which means “for grandmothers” in the Mende language. Implemented since 2013 by World Vision, the project first supports community members to analyse the role, relationships and influence of specific family members, which in the end leads them to recognise the vital role that grandmothers play. Grandmothers are then publicly recognised and praised for their role regarding maternal and child health, before being appointed as community leaders to recruit pregnant women and women with children less than two years of age into the project. They conduct house visits to monitor the progress of mothers and babies, make referrals for pregnant women to antenatal care, encourage and teach good infant and young child feeding practices, and even accompany pregnant women to deliver their babies.

Katta’s mother, Esther, is also a member of the Mamanieva Project. “I have learnt a lot from the Mamanieva Project,” says Esther. “We now know what to tell our children when they become pregnant and after they have given birth. We have received all this from World Vision and will pass it on.”

Cherish Your Loved Ones

In life, no matter what your priorities are: love, family or career, family is the only one that affects us throughout our whole life. Our grandparents, parents, siblings, spouse, children and grandchildren all accompany us at different stages of life. Well-being has always been around us, we only have to realise it and know how to grab it with both hands. May you also cherish your loved ones and live your life to the fullest alongside them.

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