Video interviews help youths see around life's 'next curve'

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 4 2014 4:35 p.m. MST

While a missionary, Nelson said, he witnessed emotional abuse within families. Much of this came from parents who lived through the Khamer Rouge conflict, in which between 1.5 million and 2 million Cambodians were killed, and the subsequent Vietnamese occupation. The parents learned to not show emotion almost as a defense mechanism, he said, and often passed this on to their children. There was not much love or focus on children, he said.

"It's almost like their feelings aren't important," so it's more difficult to get them to open up, he said.

Stevenson teamed up with Mary-Anne Hatch to further the project in Cambodia. This will be the third year that Hatch and Stevenson conduct interviews at the Sunrise Children's Village Orphanage in Cambodia.

“This project gives to a child who has been utterly powerless in the circumstances of his or her life absolute center stage in the power of being able to tell their own story, their own narrative,” Hatch said.

Hatch explained that they use a "soft approach" of asking simple questions to children to get them to understand and work through their own feelings.

The questions are benign: Name? Age? Who do you have a crush on? What makes you happy? Tell me about the last time you cried.

Through these simple questions, Stevenson and Hatch said, they have seen miracles happen. Those miracles range from a child learning to love himself or herself to a teen crying for the first time in years.

"I think what (the project) does is give the child an opportunity to reflect without getting too bogged down in the details," Hatch said.

Many children at this orphanage come from families where the parents are often too poor to keep the children. Geraldine Cox, founder of the orphanage, rescues children who would otherwise be trafficked or abandoned.

Cox embraces the idea that if children feel loved, they will be able to change society and affect generations, Hatch said.

Cox has used art therapy and other means to get the children to talk about their feelings and experiences. The interviews are another way to help these youths open up.

Although these children's experiences do not seem much like those of the average teen in the U.S., Hatch said there are universal similarities. Most teens feel alone and powerless at some point. By participating in the interviews and seeing others' accounts, they come to realize that other people have similar struggles.

The interviews can help children feel empowered regardless of their circumstances.

One of the "biggest enemies of children is disempowerment," Stevenson said. "They have within themselves the ability to make the best of their own lives."

Email: wevans@deseretnews.com

Twitter: whitevs7

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