There are many challenges that the Grannies, and the children as well as the coordinators [personnel involved in keeping things going) at the various centres face. Some of these challenges are fairly obvious and get talked about quite a bit. Technological difficulties – particularly net connectivity, hardware disruptions, confusion over time zone differences, challenges created by the absence of a common language, or unfamiliarity with computers are regularly addressed.
But there is one challenge that almost never gets mentioned. It even goes largely unnoticed. Yet its presence is something that the Core Team and I grapple with regularly.
It has been present from the beginning and likely to remain. Granny Burnout.
As more and more Grannies are brought on board, an almost equal number is lost. There are many reasons for this. One reason (that no longer exists) is the loss of morale because there are no centres available to connect to. You would think that this is an unlikely situation given the number of children all over the world that could vastly benefit from such interactions. But the reality is that adult apathy and lack of conviction often comes in the way of ensuring that children have access to as many resources as feasible within the constraints of a typically impoverished or disadvantaged situation. We experienced a big dose of this apathy towards the end of the OGEF project in Hyderabad following which the numbers in the Granny Cloud dwindled down to just a handful over 2010-2011. There were just a few centres that had the will to carry on. Yet today, with over 20 centres, we currently avoid taking on new ones because of the shortage of Grannies!
But a different cause for Granny Burnout is from the Grannies end. And its impact is felt within a couple of months of their joining the team. While every attempt is made to encourage self- reflection and the challenges are discussed during the initial conversations, most Grannies still join with a sense of thrill and wonder. There is something romantic, mysterious, exotic, even glamorous about the idea that you could (theoretically at least) connect with children in any remote corner of the world. A computer connected to the Internet. That’s all it really takes – and wham! You are connected!
But that is a far cry from the ground situation, even today. It often means endless waits to make the connection, often with no communication from the other end. And when you do manage to connect, the sound or visual (even both at the same time) maybe distorted or missing. And even when that is all fine, you don’t quite understand what the children are saying, and are even more unsure about what they might be grasping of what you are saying… and you find yourself asking “what impact is it really all going to make? ” You ask yourself whether this kind of interaction is really meant for you?
And just as quickly as you signed up for this adventure, you slip away.
We have, over the years, come up with all kinds of initiatives to counteract the effect of this loss of motivation – the special Facebook groups being just one example.
There are of course, those who stick it out a little longer – 6 months, perhaps a year; and then the enormity of the commitment really sinks in. Grannies begin to realise what it really involves and how difficult it is to balance these interactions with their many other commitments. Family, job, local level civic involvement, even social time. And they gradually slip away too.
And then there are those Grannies who get past ALL this and not just stay, but even return – after an illness, a bereavement, or after caring for family members with special needs. And they throw themselves into the many different activities of The Granny Cloud with great enthusiasm. And they take on 2, 3 (sometimes even more) sessions a week. They thrive on the interaction. Many have shared that it gives their day a great start or jump. (Mood Elevators needed?! Try having a Granny session…) And when coordinators start appealing, (sometimes quite directly) for help, they find it even harder to say “No”.
These are the Grannies I worry about, in a different way… I hate losing any of our Grannies though I respect the reasons behind that decision – whether it comes after a few sessions, a few months, or many years.
But I have an appeal specially for those of the Grannies who have been with us for many years and involved with many different centres, working to create many different support initiatives, and for those Grannies who are relatively new and just starting off, as well as for those Grannies who have ‘settled into a groove’ and love being in touch with several groups a week (basically ALL Grannies!).
We need you. The children need you. And we have much joy and fulfilment to offer in return.
So – PACE YOURSELF. Children who need you will still be there. It doesn’t (it can’t!) all happen overnight. So take on only as much as you can easily fit into your already rich lives. If you can be there in the long run you will be able to reach many more children.
And anytime (whether you have been with us for a short time or long) you are unsure of your involvement talk to us. Talk to me. Share your concerns. We can usually find a way around it.
Take a break. Come back refreshed.
Ask for support. There will be someone who responds.
We are all there for each other (coordinators included) and the children.
Don’t “burn out”. Let’s keep the flame going – even when it sometimes means passing it on.