A mentorship program for boys led by Peace Warriors-trained mentor, Matt Bibeau
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Fire Tenders is a Peace Warriors mentorship program for boys beginning at the ages 9-10, inspiring an awakening of their gentle masculinity through self-exploration, art, and nature connection. Our mission is to contribute the restoration of balance in the soul of humanity. Fire Tenders is a learning community designed to inspire, educate, and support boys as they enter their 9-year change and begin the transition into their lives as young men. Our program connects boys with their innate spirituality, encourages a radiant self-esteem, prepares them for rites-of-passage into manhood, and explores wisdom teachings of many cultures and of nature herself.
The program is rooted in building a deeper sense of self-awareness in boys. Our curriculum embraces the broad spectrum of being a boy in our society today: mind, body, spirit and emotions. We feel that as boys develop a stronger sense of “wisdom found within”, they can find then the courage to become who they really are. We honor an appreciation our ancestors and the future generations. We are an essential component of building a “village” where youth find purpose in life and where interests blossom into passions.
Inspired by author Angeles Arrien, one of the core understandings we develop is that it is the responsibility of men to have a balance of the positive attributes of the warrior, the visionary, the healer and the teacher. Everything else we work on together is a reflection of that. For part of our 3-hour session, we gather in a circle and light a candle that represents the creation of sacred space, where we are always supportive to one another and where our sharings with each other are also treated as sacred and not to be used to make fun of anyone or shared with others outside of the group without their permission.
We begin the first year by exploring the self and the positive attributes and qualities we collectively agree are present in the kind of people we want to be in the world. One such lesson is called "Where I Come From" and each boy is tasked to work with their parents and finding out what they can about their family tree and who these relatives were. This builds on a lesson called "Who am I" that provides an opportunity for the boys to associate positive archetypes and traits with who they are and want to be as they grow older.
Another one of our session's themes is called "The Many Faces of God" and we have the opportunity to look at over a dozen artistic representations of the "God" deity from cultures across the globe. Understanding that there are many beliefs is an important lesson in life and this is how we begin exploring the topic. We don't take a negative light on religion or spirituality, and focus on building awareness and appreciation. By virtue of this awareness, we aim to cultivate the lifelong skills of tolerance and respect.
Each lesson usually comes with a symbolic gift that is given to the boys to put in the special bundle that they each make for themselves on the first day, where they keep these symbols and other sacred objects they have or find. One is a marble colored like the earth. Another is a multi-colored glass gem, to symbolize their own individual unique beauty. Another is a small container of water that has been collected from across the world to connect to our exploration of the sacredness of water and the importance of keeping it clean for current and future generations.
This main daily lesson is surrounded by explorations and movement-based activities on and around Jean's Farm, a forested farm nestled within SE Portland We will often times cook our own snack in the farm's outdoor kitchen and the boys are tasked with harvesting and preparing the food with increasingly minimal instruction. They learn real life skills and also help with occasional farm tasks and building projects. We observe wildlife and practice ways to improve our ability to hear, see and track animals in nature. Permaculture design inspires both the farm and the program curriculum.
As the groups go through the years, the mentor brings them farther off site for the exploration and the occasional field trip. Jean's Farm is along Johnson Creek and the Springwater Corridor trails, which provide a lot of forest and stream to explore. For one of our activities, a year 3 class went tracking along the creek-side trails and took castings of animal tracks and identified them with field guides. The program recognizes that boys need to move around a lot and especially for a program after school, it is designed be restorative and as much of a full-body, full-sensory experience as can be provided in such a rich learning environment.
About the mentor:
Matt Bibeau's background reflects many forms of outdoor education and has an Masters in sustainability education and a B.S. in environmental science. Many of his early jobs were either with national parks and forests or some aspect of human services such as a job coach and a counselor at a residential boy's home. Formerly working as the Executive Director of Mother Earth School (which runs a mostly outdoor grade school on the farm, and whose beautiful yurt classroom we use as the heated indoor space for group lessons), Matt currently runs this mentorship program through the Institute of Permaculture Education for Children, the current land tender and farm leaseholder. Matt has been inspired by and has trained with Georgette Star, the Peace Warriors and Maiden Spirit program founder; with Jon Young, global nature connection teacher, mentor and author; with Kelly Hogan, his partner and founder of Mother Earth School, and many others who were influential in the work of developing a deeper soul and nature connection.