At the age of 47, Linette Carelse began a new chapter in her life when she began to read and write fluently in her adult life. A skill that she says she had given up on because of her age – until Salesian Life Choices came into her life. The mother of six – four biological daughters and two foster boys – has become a role model in her community because of her tenacity, resilience and love.
Linette heard about the Salesian Life Choices’ Family Affairs programme from a friend of hers who was attending a presentation by a programme facilitator.
“I was curious because I heard good things about the parenting workshops and I was hoping that it would also help me with my foster boys.” Linette adds that both boys have had tough backgrounds; “they are lovely boys, but they’ve had to overcome challenges, one of them is HIV positive and has a mental illness and my other boy was involved in gangs, I am committed to give them loving homes to show them that there is good in this world.”
The Family Affairs programme believes that through each stage of a child’s life, good parenting practices are crucial for optimal development. To reach the goal of optimal de-velopment it offers a 7-week parenting programme that is hosted in communities.
Topics discussed and workshopped include: building confidence, reconciling with your past, family problem solving communication and various parenting tools.
Joining the programme, Linette says that she was apprehensive but from the first session she already felt like she was in a safe space. “In the beginning we spoke about who we are, our lives, our younger days. I had never thought about my life like that and whether I loved myself. It was very emotional because many of us were crying. As the sessions went on it felt good because we were around people who care about each other. I could feel it.”
Linette adds that it made her look at the things that she had given up in her life. “My parents were both alcoholics, so we were raised by our aging grandparents. When I was seven I had to leave school to help raise my siblings. It was really hard for me because I wanted to go to school, I would always see other children go to school. I wanted to know what they were doing, but I was told that I must help at home. I would get upset about it, but no one really listened to me.”
Linette says her situation became more difficult when her siblings began going to school.
“They would always make fun of me because I couldn’t read or write. I tried learning but it was very hard so I decided to give up. It wasn’t until I was in one of the parenting workshops – where we were talking about what we can do for ourselves – that it came to mind. I kept thinking that I am always telling my children that educating themselves can change their life, but that I wasn’t doing it for myself.”
Speaking about the impact the Family Affairs programme has had on her life, Linette says that shortly after talking about dreams and goals in the group she began finding out information about adult reading and writing classes. “I found a community centre in Delft, and signed up for their classes. At the beginning it was hard, but I kept thinking of the Salesian Life Choices facilitator and remembering the moment I committed to do this. After a few weeks, I was sitting with a magazine, normally I would just page through it, look at the pictures and make up some words but this time I could actually read what was on the page. I wanted to cry, I felt very emotional.”
As she sat on the couch in her dining room with her granddaughter on her lap, Linette says that she enthusiastically went through pages and pages in the magazine. “I felt proud of myself. For some it is such a simple thing, but for me this was a big achievement.”
Linette’s perseverance has motivated other members of her community, “many people have come to me and asked about the classes, they say because I did it, they feel like they can too. Many people are embarrassed because they can’t read or write, knowing that I have made a difference in their lives is the best part. I know if I didn’t do the exercise about what I want for my life that I would never have bothered.”
Linette adds that the simple task of reading also gave her more confidence in her life that has enabled her to more effectively use the parenting tools she learned through the workshops. “My foster child who has the mental illness gets angry very quickly, the doctors say that it is an effect of his condition. Before the training I would sometimes feel helpless, and just hope that his medication helps. But during the workshops we were told how to work with our children and how to talk to them.”
As a result of his condition, one of Linette’s foster children often feels overwhelmed especially when he is overtired, Linette says that since the training she can calm him down simply by being there for him; “If he screams I will take him and walk with him, because sometimes he feels frustrated, I tell him that I love him and that I will support him. Before I would feel helpless, but now I feel empowered because I am taking control of the situation. I have seen a change in his behaviour and it has also been noticed by his teachers.”
Living a new life, Linette says that her precious daughters have always told her that she is their role model and that she never knew why but now she understands. “Before, my kids would say that they admire me. Today, I admire myself, my confidence has grown. I feel like I can take on life’s challenges head on. I never thought a few weeks of training could make such a difference in my life.”