By Adam Smith
May 5, 2010
In Kenya, the migration of people from rural villages to large cities has left a gap in the way children develop. The traditional way in which children are ushered into adulthood through tribal rites of passage is no longer a reality for many youths. Without proper role models and a clear path to adulthood, Kenya has seen a loss of identity among its youth, as well as increased Westernization and a lingering immaturity. The Tanari Trust, a Kenyan charitable organization formed by a partnership of five churches, is seeking to replace the tribal initiation rites for city children by introducing a program that ushers youth into adulthood and responsibility while instilling a sense of civic duty and Christian principles.
In providing this rite of passage, the Tanari Trust has created the ROPES (Rites of Passage Experiences) program. The program mixes classroom instruction and physically demanding camps to initiate children into adulthood. Children are taught in a year-long course called CPR (Creating Positive Relationships) about the physical and psychological changes they’re going through, as well as the tenets of Christianity and civic duty. Some of the topics of study include decision making and goal setting, abstinence and the sanctity of marriage, and peer pressure and media influence. In doing so, the ROPES program is fulfilling the role that older tribal leaders would have taken on in the village setting. “The program was developed to replace the rites of passage that would be a regular part of a Kenyan’s community while living in the tribal villages,” says Trevor Buehler, who trained with the course in Nairobi. “[In the village] regular events would take place to encourage men and women, girls and boys to move from immaturity to maturity in their mental, spiritual and sometimes physical lives. ROPES takes a year to prepare for and the parents are heavily involved.”
Though parents are involved throughout much of the process, the culmination of the course separates the children from their parents when the children are taken to a wilderness camp. At the camp, they’re put through a time of testing to mark their transition into adulthood. “The climax is a week-long event pushing the people beyond their limits in an attempt to break them,” Buehler says. After succeeding in their physical trials, the children are reunited with their parents or an older role model for one-on-one discussion time.
After children have completed the classroom study and physical trials, a ceremony is held to celebrate each child taking their place as an adult in the community. At the conclusion of the course, children have been trained in the expectations of adulthood and tested in their resolve, and they’re welcomed back to their communities as adults.
With the success of the ROPES course in Kenya, many American churches are trying to institute similar programs. The lack of clear lines between childhood and adulthood in American society can make adolescence a troubling time for American teens. “While tribes are long gone from being part of anything that existed in North American culture, our culture greatly lacks anything that would be considered an event such as a rite of passage, except for maybe getting a driver’s license and getting married,” Buehler says. “ROPES takes a more active role in creating a higher level of maturity for both young and old, something I think our churches could use a lot more of.”
To learn more, visit Tanari.org.