Khulisa voice: Carmen’s story

In this blog post we hear from a Khulisa Programme Manager who worked with Carmen, a student at Wac Arts College. Before joining Wac, Carmen had a dislocated educational journey impacted by multiple managed moves and low attendance. 

Carmen has a complicated family history and struggles with low self-esteem and sense of worth. When I first met Carmen I asked her who the most important people in her life were. She responded that she “doesn’t really like anyone”. One of her future goals was to feel closer to her family but she also explained feeling abandoned by them and no longer living with them. She felt that she was given no boundaries at home from a young age which caused her to grow up too fast and avoid relying on other people. Carmen reflected that she “always feels angry but pretend[s] to be bubbly on the outside” and said this was because  “I’m very self-conscious about everything but I like people to believe I’m confident”. Carmen loves performing arts and has finally managed to sustain a placement at Wac Arts college where her attendance has increased because she gets to do classes that she loves.

During the programme, Carmen appeared confident, feisty, competitive, energetic, assertive and playful but she also reflected that she often feels “happy, but also, not really”. We had a sense that our experience of her was entirely different from her internal experience of herself and wanted to see more of the authentic Carmen. She flipped between being overly mature, motherly and protective of others, and then becoming small, childlike and needing validation from facilitators and group members about how she interacted and contributed to the group. When she made suggestions that were taken up, she always seemed surprised that she was being taken seriously and having an impact on her environment.

“I learnt how to cope with my stress and anger because of this group. Before I thought that no-one liked me, but I was wrong.”

As the group went on, Carmen was able to be more vulnerable and self-aware. She acknowledged that her past experiences, family environment and the subsequent self-doubt she experiences all trigger her anger and insecurity. Carmen came up with lots of different alternatives to becoming violent when she feels triggered, including getting some space and acknowledging what her needs are. She reflected that in the past she has taken control of situations as a coping strategy. She recognised that “making up your own rules because there aren’t any boundaries” can be damaging and make people feel unsafe. When the group discussed role models, crying and being vulnerable, Carmen reflected that “no one will ever see her cry” because she cries on her own. She then looked tearful and deflated and allowed herself to be supported by other group members.

At the end of the programme Carmen felt “sad that it’s ended.” She said she has learnt how to analyse situations more closely before responding and said that she feels less socially awkward and uncomfortable since being in this group. She shared a new career goal to work with children so that she can use her experiences to help other people. When asked how she felt about sharing in a group, Carmen said “I’m good at sharing but I chose not to cos’ I don’t like people knowing my business. This was different because everyone got a chance to share”.

A couple of months after the programme finished, we saw Carmen shine as she was singing, acting and dancing in a Wac Arts College show.

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