Learning from and on the streets with Mobile School - An interview with Arnoud Raskin
It’s the season of “giving” and with that on my mind, I want to show you what this special organization is giving to a group of children in need.
I went in to have a chat with Arnoud Raskin. His shoulders are the foundation of Mobile School. I went out with appreciation, warmth and belief in the good, and innocence of children. Read on to find out what is so special about Mobile School.
Putting kids in the ‘driver’s seat’, that’s what Mobile School is all about. With projects all over the world, Mobile School looks for street children who need help and teaches them how to survive in society. Inspired by the strengths of street-connected children, they hit the streets with a school board on wheels. Mobile school wants to improve the sustainable development of individuals.
A school on the move for kids on the move
Mobile School wants to reach three groups: children who live and work on the streets, kids on the move, and hanging youngsters. The school’s mission is to give these kids a better future and a purpose in life. With a retractable school on wheels, they aim to make the youngsters believe in themselves again and give them a goal.
There are a lot of shelters for children living on the streets, but Arnoud recognized that they don’t do what they are meant to do. For example, in the 90’s, a lot of money was invested in shelters and homes, but these were rarely used. The reason is that these shelters were only used as a safe place for these youngsters: they would only go there if they had to dive under the radar or were seriously injured. When that’s over, they just hit the streets again, and continue living there.
Of course, there are still youngsters who go to these shelters to get help. That is why it was very important for Arnoud to know why it works for some of them.
“Research shows that young people who are self-conscious about their problems embrace the process faster. Only 10% of the young people who visited a shelter or home are in the position to be self-aware of their problems.” - Arnoud Raskin
Create a safe space
With its retrectable school board on wheels, Mobile School isn’t a recruitment for shelters or other programmes, but wants to create a safe space on the streets.
The street children’s biggest problem is that they don’t believe in themselves and only feel “at home” on the streets, within the street culture. In other places, for example a shelter, they feel even worse.
That’s why it’s important to approach the youngsters on the street’s pavement, and make the pavement a positive context. When creating a positive context on the pavement, the mobile school sign helps a lot. When street children sit on the pavement with school books, people look down on them and try to avoid them. But when people see the mobile school sign, they stop to ask what it is, or even let their own children play along.
Empowering the powerless
Street children need an “empowering context”. This means that you give young people a goal, a reason to work for something or to achieve something. They don’t find what they are looking for in schools or within society, so they start looking for it within subcultural society on the street. That’s where they end up with gang culture.
Mobile School wants to empower and motivate street children to take the steering wheel in their own hands, and make their own decisions to have a successful life. They place the youngsters in the ‘driver’s seat’. Now they have to mark the destination.
Therefore, Arnoud believes that some schools have a fundamental educational flaw: too often we are taught things without a goal. It is already difficult enough to motivate some students to learn or even to go to school, let alone when practical assignments seem ‘useless’.
Problem: Construction students get the assignment to build a wall, and a week later to tear it down again. Mobile School tries to do this in a different way and asks the students for help, rather than saying “do this, that, …”
The same students are instead asked to help with welding in the production of the schools on wheels. This way of learning is more effective, and it’s a very good motivation that will provide hem with steps in the right direction.
Don’t judge a book by its cover
The word “street child” does not have a positive meaning in our society. When we ask people what they think of street children, they mention prostitution, drugs, problematic children, …
The problem here is that they don’t consider the strengths of these children. Most children are placed in a shelter and judged for what they have done; nobody takes a closer look at the “goodness” and the “strength” whitin this child.
Arnoud has a different approach. When he meets children, he will not drag them down and tell them what to do. These children have been condemned by society at a very young age and already bear the consequences. Arnoud knows that, for that very reason, he can’t force the child to follow an education. Mobile School’s aim is to make sure the child feels good and trusts the streetworksers.
From a rebel to a do-gooder
Arnoud himself knows all too well what it feels like not to be understood: he has had a very turbulent youth himself. He lost his father when he was 12 years old, and started to rebel against everything and everyone. Things didn’t go well at school either.
However, these events made him finish school as an 18-year-old with a good picture of the world. Life had forced him into a process where he had to learn a lot at a very young age. The thought that life can end with just a snap of two fingers motivated him to live a life with a purpose.
It’s because of Arnoud’s own life that he has so much passion and understanding for these street children. He has had periods in which he was very rebellious and didn’t know what to do, but by making his own choices and having a goal he has become happy.
In his further studies, when designing products without a higher purpose, he thought he was wasting his time. It was only when he started with humanitarian projects and designs that he got motivated. That’s where Mobile School came to life.
Celebrate successes, deal with setbacks
Thanks to the mobility of schools, when there is a mutual problem on the street, the youth workers simply clean up the school board and start walking away. As a result, young people usually solve the mutual problems themselves very quickly, and ask the youth workers to stay. Under no circumstances will the youth workers interfere with this situation.
“Setbacks are ‘part of the job’, and successes are celebrated as much as possible. Failure is only failure when you do nothing with it, otherwise it only makes you stronger. Because of the mistakes, things have been learned, and without those mistakes, I might never have had these insights”. - Arnoud Raskin
Arnoud still has contact with a number of young people he worked with at the time, and they are doing relatively well. These connections motivate him when things get difficult.
Measuring is knowing
Approximately between 70.000 and 80.000 empowerment processes are set up with the mobile school each year. Measuring success is very difficult, though: the only thing that is effectively measurable is how many sessions are done on the street, and how many children are present.
With a new app, the youth workers will be able to create and manage sessions and activities they do. With this app, street children’s presence and activities can be tracked better and more effectively. It also offers them a way to register the street children (as many of them don’t have an identity).
In addition, there is a possibility to set up profiles of the children, so youth workers can follow the children’s “empowerment. In the long run, AI could be implemented, so that the youth workers receive feedback from the app based on the collected data, for example the best mobile school approach for a particular target group.
Individual organizations with youth workers from all over the world can ask for help from Mobile School. Mobile School examines these requests, and assists them if the can. Each project is different, and each location has to be tackled in a different way, with a different strategy.
Over the years, the target group of Mobile School has shifted. In the past, you could clearly see extreme poverty, whereas now, there is much more hidden poverty. There is a higher call for help from European countries as well. There are lots of young people who have a migrant background and are not (yet) integrated.
The United Nations employed Sustainable Development Goals with a deadline that won’t be reached. It shows us there’s still a lot of work to do, but in the long run, these goals will hopefully bring change.
Mobile School is working with a lot of people to empower the street kids to look after their own future. It’s heartwarming (and mind-blowing) to see how many street workers put themselves on the streets to support these children. And you can help too! Check out their website and find out how you can make an impact.
I really hope you like this initiative as much as I do. You and I are teachers after all, and educating kids is our purpose.
P.S. For the Dutch-speaking primary teachers, Mobile School has developed a free lesson series “Radio Coronials”. Go check it out!