Monday, March 16, 2009

Parktown Boys Re-Initiate

This past weekend the boarders at troubled Druce Hall, Parktown Boys High, underwent the first “Boys to Men’ initiation ever organised by a South African school. This initiation adventure, held from Friday to Sunday 6-8 March, was facilitated by the Boys to Men program. The weekend was conducted by a skilled team of 27 volunteer men – old and young – from all walks of life. Originating in the USA and refined over decades, Boys to Men initiations are now offered in several countries around the world. Rooted in the idea that boys were initiated into manhood in most ancient cultures, and that boys today still need this experience, the programme offers a ‘Rite of Passage Adventure’ that invites teenage boys into a deeply meaningful initiation that doesn’t exclude – nor include – any religious belief.

Feedback from the boys who did the weekend was extraordinarily positive, especially since they were comparing this weekend with their own school initiation tradition: “if any boy can come through this weekend, then they’re OK with us”. “I managed to connect with my heart for the first time.” “I learned to be an individual.” “I learned that only I can my future great. I have the power to be the best person I can possibly be.” “I learned that [my fellow boarders] also have issues and need my help.” “I learned that I can get in touch with my emotions easily and that there other, safer ways of initiating someone.”

This weekend the Parktown boarders took brave steps on their journey to maturity and manhood. In these three days the boys addressed issues of responsibility, compassion, trust, integrity and non-violent communication. They explored crossroads that challenge them in their personal lives, past wounds that keep them back, and were guided to find a personal mission statement for their lives. The boys came to realise how not being conscious of emotions can keep them from living their lives to the full.

Boys to Men initiations utilise facilitated dialogue, fun games, role-play, writing exercises, guided visualisations and the power of ritual and celebration. It steers a structured yet deeply personal journey towards a sense of inner personal achievement for each participant.

One weekend workshop is a powerful start to a journey. Graduates of the ‘Rite of Passage Adventure’, are called ‘Journeymen’ (no longer boys, but not yet men), and are encouraged to continue their personal growth by attending regular Boys to Men meetings. They are also invited to attend future Rites of Passage Adventures as co-facilitators alongside the adult men staff. Boys and men who undergo these initiations report that they experience relationships more fully, they become more aware of others’ feelings, they learn to listen with their hearts and summon the courage to face up to difficulties more easily.

The rationale behind the 'Boys to Men' programme, is that for thousands of years boys and young men were taught how to be adults by their fathers, uncles, grandfathers and village elders. Their progression to mature manhood was a process in which their natural youthful testosterone and aggression was tempered by the wisdom and mentorship of elder men. Today these time-tested processes of men handing down their sacred truths from generation to generation have begun to break down.

Many boys today grow up without the guidance of mature elder men, contributing to the misuse of masculine strength in various forms: violence to women and children, crime and general moral degeneration. Two Boys to Men programmes have been launched in South Africa – in Jozi and Cape Town – to respond to this problem. Any boy or man is eligible to participate in the programme, and the rich diversity of South Africa’s population enhances the experience for all. Boys to Men programmes are ideally placed to make abusive initiations in South African schools obsolete.