11 year-old Piya takes care of her three younger siblings for eight hours or more every day. Her father abandoned the family, and her mother has to leave them alone when she goes to work.  

Despite her burdens, she is smiling. Piya is resilient.

All the children chosen by Alongsider mentors as little brothers and sisters are in difficult circumstances that require them to be resilient.

Resilience is ‘a set of qualities that helps a person to withstand many of the negative effects of adversity'.

It's that innate strength of character that every child in every culture has to varying degrees. It's that phenomenal quality that enables some children to endure seemingly crushing challenges and hardships and spring back.

Scientists agree that it comes from a mixture of nature and nurture.  That means we CAN strengthen the resilience of children. But it won't be through mere service provision.

Outside services for the poor often have the unintended consequence of disrupting family and community relationships, undermining resilience. Communities receive such services gratefully but at unknown costs.

At Alongsiders we draw on The Circle of Courage, described in this article, as a practical application of resilience theory. The Circle of Courage identifies four universal needs of all children: Belonging, Mastery, Independence, and Generosity.”

  • Belonging: forming healthy attachments and trusting relationships. When this need is met a child can say, "I am loved."
  • Mastery: achieving and growing in capability. When this need is met a child will be able to say, "I can succeed."
  • Independence: standing up for oneself and finding appropriate autonomy. When this need is met a child can say, "I can make decisions."
  • Generosity: altruism and serving others. When this need is met a child can say, "I have a purpose."

Whatever we do to strengthen children and youth in these areas will contribute to their resilience, drawing out their own strengths, so they can take hold of their own lives and futures. 

If these are four legs of a stool, then every leg has a social component. We are relational beings, even in our independence, and we are strongest when we stand with others.

Alongsider mentors serve in their own communities in ways that honor and strengthen family and community relationships, helping children to grow in belonging, mastery, independence and generosity. The result, we have seen, is greater resilience.

Chenda and Piya

Chenda and Piya

Piya, by the way, may have had an extra boost of resilience the afternoon that I met her, a greater feeling of belonging.

It was a special day, as she was standing with her new Alongsider mentor, Chenda!



[written by Andy Gray]