Pedagogy of Tenderness” – A Gentle Name for a Powerful Conference

Children making friends

Children at the “First Meeting of Children” conference, including Rupak from India, aged 16, (second from right) recently nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize (Image credit: INFANT-PERÚ (CC))

When the invitation arrived to participate in the “Primer Encuentro Internacional de Infancias: Con Ternura, Otro Mundo es Posible(First International Meeting of Children: With Tenderness, Another World is Possible”) to be held in Lima this past October, I confess to being a bit confused by the title. Tenderness? I am used to strong words like “empowerment” and “full participation” when talking about children and their rights. However, I have long admired the work of Lima-based NGO INFANT (National Institute for the Formation of Adolescent and Child Workers) and decided there must be a deeper significance to the term “tenderness” when describing a pedagogical approach.

The conference was living proof of the power of the Pedagogy of Tenderness which calls for a warm, caring, and respectful relationship between adults and children as partners in the construction of a world where children’s rights are respected and upheld.  The goals of the conference were to promote new practices to improve and strengthen this partnership, and to facilitate intergenerational and intercultural dialogue.  Impressive goals, but how do we achieve effective dialogue between adults and children? This is where the experience and success of INFANT was so evident—children ran the conference.

Of course, adults organised the conference, made the arrangements and “worked the back room.” But 11 year-old Gabriel and 15 year-old Séfora emceed the entire conference with an ease of elocution that reflected years of experience in handling large events, including those involving children.  To maintain order and add a bit of levity to the conference, each day a different child dressed as a mime and in a silent but exaggerated manner kept the speakers on schedule and led the audience in cheering and applause.  Longer sessions were broken up with songs and energizers – led by children. This was a children’s conference in every sense.

Children's working group

Child to Child of the Americas Director Dr Celine Woznica engaging with one of the children’s working groups (Image credit: INFANT-PERÚ (CC))

As with all conferences, the time between the sessions was valuable and children “networked” in ways appropriate for children – through soccer games, dances, and sharing of social media. Connections were made by children from Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Venezuela, Paraguay, Mexico, Bolivia, and India.

Coming from mountain villages, river communities, rural areas, and urban neighbourhoods, the children all had one thing in common: in their home communities, they were organised and worked to make life better for themselves, their families, and their communities.

The young participants were local leaders in efforts to prevent violence against children, protect the environment, and promote children’s rights, including those of differently-abled children. The conference was a lived example of inclusiveness as visually and hearing-impaired children were able to fully participate in the activities, thanks to accommodations made for them and the tenderness displayed by the others children who made certain they participated in all the activities – and the fun.

Child to Child is honoured to be a partner with INFANT in promoting children’s rights-based participation in Latin America and to be able to give a workshop at the conference on CtC step methodology. The three days the adults and children spent together were filled with “tenderness” as friendships developed and mutual respect deepened.