Making that penny drop
A highly successful programme saves young underachievers from turning
into "regretters" later in life. The Eye-Opener Grant helps that penny to drop!
Eleven years ago, in July 2010, Gemma H. filed the Global Natives' very first Eye-Opener Grant application.
Because her daughter Emma's behaviour, thirteen years old at the time, caused her sleepless nights.
This is her story. The first of many eye-opener tales, all of them different and individually life-changing.
Emma had always been a great girl. Bright, charming, cheerful - a very promising child. But then she changed.
The problems had started gradually when Emma was eleven.
She no longer wanted to go out and play, she had no interest in sports any more and developed a voracious appetite. Soon she started to gain weight. It didn't take long for some of her schoolmates to pass some hurtful comments. This made her withdraw even more. Next, her teachers started to express concern. Emma wasn't paying attention, didn't do her homework, she skipped assignments - within a short space of time she had turned into a lazy and troublesome student.
"Like a fish out of water"
Emma clearly was deeply unhappy. And she had no idea why. She could not explain her transformation, not to herself nor to anyone else. Her parents and her siblings loved her dearly, she knew that. She also knew that they would always stand by her, no matter what. Therapists tried to find out what was wrong, a psychologist examined her. Emma was neither highly gifted - which might have accounted for her being bored and under-challenged - nor was she in any way handicapped. A specialist for puberty-related issues was consulted, her hormone levels were examined. No answers there either.
By all accounts, Emma was a healthy, normal, intelligent girl. But she was not okay.
Gemma and her husband felt they had to try everything in their power to help their daughter become herself again.
How to get out of a Catch-22 situation?
In the spring of 2009, Gemma had been invited to join the newly established Global Natives Club by Kim, a childhood friend, whose sister was one of the founders. Emma's brother Jimmy was seventeen at the time and already quite fluent in French. So they connected with a family in Cannes, where Jimmy spent the summer. His French improved noticeably, so did his manners. A year later Kim told Gemma about the Eye-Opener Grant.
Its concept was based on Sir Ken Robinson's book "The Element. How finding your passion changes everything" and had only just gone online as a lifeline for parents of unhappy underachievers. The idea was to use the community to find opportunities for these kids. The grant was designed to help them find their element, as uncomplicated, low-threshold and affordable as possible. It turned out to be just the right thing to try.
Today, Emma is a goldsmith. A talented and happy goldsmith.
The Eye-Opener worked for Emma. Here's how.
Emma had made it quite clear that she didn't want to go anywhere, the prospect of travelling abroad did not thrill her at all.
So Gemma followed the suggestions of the programme and started to bring new things and activities into Emma's life, without any obligation. First, she got Emma tickets to a Linkin Park concert where she could bring her best friend Lucy. Then, Emma went to see a Mozart opera with her parents - "Cosi fan tutte". A couple of weeks later, her mum took her to London again, and they spent a day at the Tate Gallery.
During their outings and later at home, Gemma would not ask her daughter what she liked and what she didn't, she merely observed quietly and took a note of what Emma told her dad and her brothers about it. One day, after a long visit to the Victoria and Albert museum in late October, they walked past a jeweller's on the way to the tube station.
Emma stopped and looked at the truly unusual exhibits in the window for some time, then turned away and walked on.
"Do you fancy anything in the window? Is there something you'd like for your birthday?" Gemma asked. "No", said Emma.
I don't want any jewellery. Thanks." But a week later, Gemma noticed some sketches of a necklace in the waste paper bin.
A thought occurred to her - maybe Emma did not want to possess, but to create.
Gemma logged into the Global Natives account and went to look for a family with teenage kids and a connection to designing and making jewellery. A day later she was on the phone to Kenneth, a goldsmith from Edinburgh, who had moved to Rome in the Nineties. In Rome, Kenneth had found Lenora, the love of his life and a congenial and inspiring partner to create beautiful brooches and rings, bracelets and necklaces. They were passionate artisans.
Kenneth's daughter Giselle was fourteen, she had no interest in her parents' business but was hoping to spend a year in an English-speaking country soon. What a match! So Gemma and her husband decided to do something unusual: They would treat the family to a Christmas holiday in Rome.
Lenora booked them into a cosy hotel near their gallery and on Boxing Day 2010 the two families met for the first time over a wonderful dinner. The next day they visited the gallery and the workshop, by that time Gemma was really nervous. Would her gut feeling have served her right, or would this in hindsight just be a nice holiday away from the cold and the drizzle?
Kenneth showed them around and with her heart beating fast, Gemma watched quietly as Emma stood in front of his most recent work, totally mesmerized.
Gemma's intuition had served her well. On New Year's Eve, both families toasted to 2011 and to the future. Kenneth and his family would come to the UK for Easter and before the summer holidays they would arrange for Giselle and Emma to trade places in school for a year. Emma had already asked Lenora and Kenneth if she could become their apprentice once her formal education was finished. Yes, she could.
Back home, Emma decided to take up Italian. She went back to school with amazing vigour, stopped eating sweets and crisps and got her parents to book her into art classes. She had found out what she really wanted to do, she had a purpose. Today, eleven years on, Emma is a well known creative, a successful businesswoman and happy with her life.
In hindsight, years later, Emma could finally see and explain what - in addition to the hormonal instability of puberty - had triggered her change. She had felt the obligation to become an academic, and it had turned into a real burden for her. Her parents had never put her under such pressure, but everyone else in the family had been to university or aimed to go there.
Emma had taken it for granted that this was what was expected from her.
Looking back, it is easy to say, "Why didn't you talk about it, we might have cleared this up in no time at all!"
But it was nothing but a depressing feeling at the time, and Emma didn't have words for it. Not yet.
Sir Ken Robinson died in August 2020, aged 70. The Guardian's obituary does him and his life justice.
The comments to this obituary speak for themselves. Sir Ken is a giant in the heaven of learning.
Learn more about the Global Natives' grants here.
... and don't worry, most case stories are considerably shorter :)