The Belonging Project

Forging paths of connection around equity and inclusion

In this initiative, small groups of KidSpirit contributors from different backgrounds meet regularly with staff and KidSpirit alumni over a three-month timeframe to get to know each other while actively engaging and reflecting on difficult issues around equity and inclusion. Over time, each cohort co-creates a project of their own design and shares their voices on a subject that is meaningful to them. In this iteration, each editor created their own piece, collaborating with each other while expressing themselves in different ways: Koralie through film, Sofia and Kavya through poetry, and Elías through prose.

You Are Not Alone

By Sofia Mesh, Koralie Pharel, Kavya Shah, and Elías Viveros

This project aims to identify and bring forth how vulnerable people feel. Belonging is something rather subjective in nature; therefore, this cohort dives into “why” we feel the way we feel, especially in the context of knowing oneself, the desire to break out, and, most importantly, the theme of “you are not alone”: the culmination of the message we wish to convey. This project will go deeper with personal journeys of questioning and coming out of the tunnel strong.

Each editor created their own piece, collaborating with each other while expressing themselves in different ways: Koralie through film, Sofia and Kavya through poetry, and Elías through prose.

Koralie Pharel, a KidSpirit editor from Haiti, created the following short film, which includes recitations from her three fellow Belonging Project editors, interviews with peers from her community, and her own words.

Line Leader
by Sofia Mesh

Behind the teacher,
Behind the line leader,
And far behind his classmates,
He walks.

He’s pushed off the sidewalk
And walks on the lawn.

He stops to tie his shoe,
He doesn’t look up anymore,
They never wait for him.

He doesn’t want to walk anymore.
He sits for two seconds
Then tries to catch up.

He jogs a little and shoves past a few people,
They notice him, they smile.

“What took you so long?” they say.
He looks up to the blue and shakes his head.


Sonnets by Kavya Shah


Sonnet 16: Coming of Age

How do I love myself? Let me retreat
to my shell, thy perspicacious matters to
resurrect my love. Whom to call kin, my beat
laughs before you, and is secretly lulled into
the blanket of the night. Can I call you my home?
i ask...as you enjoy my squirm, i ponder;
About my future life in monochrome
The fiery fiend is but a fairy, a wanderer!
The tumultuous turn of being, gazing —
Into the stars, learning to love myself
Who thought it may be a vindication, praising
The convention of life: a perfect fixed shelf.
The wave crashed on the shore, as the wrecked
Ship took its winnings, exposing the earth: naked.

Sonnet 17: Placement

I am masked in the hullabaloo of
the crowded hallways and the ignorant
stares, the pink chappy lipstick: tough
I try to embody; you sizzle away. Different
Lives I try to live— the dilemma crows over
My style, as I stand away, the lone body:
Witnessing the durga puja and praise of Allah
The glory of Christ, and the shoddy
minuscule writing: defining, and re-
defining, as I stand here, unable to fathom
What it feels to belong. To have a group, to be
My arch nemesis, my love, my world
My dear diary: a new day… uncurled.

Sonnet 18: how much do i loathe thee?

How much do I loathe thee? let me count the ways
I loathe thee to the depth of my inseam and
The size of my abdomen, and the downplays
I loathe thee to every lunch thrown, and
As often as love lost with the lost saints
I loathe thee as much as candlelight
Dinners succumb the mannerisms, and paint
A resurrected world. I loathe thee as often as bytes
Of my talk as played in meaningless
Hallways and train stations and railways.
I loathe thee with with the blinding neon mess
Shaking your vision, and making you ask for ‘mays’
And if god shall let me, i shall but loathe thee
A little less, as now i no more loathe myself, maybe?

Sonnet 19: an object

Emotionless, brainless, thoughtless,
Fragmented illusions resurface thy mind
As fat brass taps gorge the body; weightless
Retreating to her cocoon, she lined
Inwards, like the wrecked ship left ashore
Wayfaring, no place to call home, houses
Building blocks, broken pieces, a core
Shattered, scattered, slithered in clauses
Of the written analogous time. Avenues
Came, left, and shredded her ambitions,
Inhibitions, and recreations, to give news
Of torn relations and creations, salvations
Were due. She had no feelings, no thoughts,
No ideas, no value, no relevance, no clots.

Sonnet 20: love thyself

My pulse quickened, as...as...as...i re-
Kindled and i again reiterated
to myself, who i wanted to be: me
Life brushed and flashed, as i waded
Through the maze and amalgamation of
Thoughts, whispers, brimming dusts of clouds
Searching for my soul; as i hear coughs
Vapours, and mists hiding the bellow sounds
Of my beat. Among the shrieking shadows
Of you, i lived, and somewhere i, (ummm)... i
Forgot who i was, what i was, i was, but
Petrifying my body, as i searched,
for me. i found: a plain body, unable to soar.
An Untouched, uneaten rotten core.

On the Path of Belonging
by Elías Viveros

There is much talk about the need to belong, but what is belonging? What does it mean? To talk about the need to belong, we have to know where these terms come from and what scientific bases they have.

One of the first authors to deal with this was the doctor and psychotherapist Alfred Adler (1870-1937). In his theory of individual psychology, he spoke about the need for the feeling of belonging, which he called the Feeling of Community. Adler affirmed that all behavior of human beings aims to search for the feeling of belonging, and of being integrated in a community and in society. Years later, in 1943, Abraham Maslow, a humanistic psychologist, created the pyramid, or order of priority, of human needs, and pointed to belonging as the third-most important need. The first need is physiological sustenance(food, rest, breathing, etc.), the second need is security (protection, job stability, family, etc.), and the third need is belonging, meaning it plays a fundamental role in the development and well-being of the human being.

The need for belonging refers to the need to belong to a group, to feel like a useful, active and fundamental part of it. The human being is a social being, who from birth acts to obtain a response from the community to which he or she belongs.

For example, when a baby is hungry, sleepy, or needs other needs to be met, he cries to receive an answer. But if he does not receive it, he will stop crying, since it is not useful or functional, nor does it get him what he needs.

The same happens in any other behavior throughout life. The human being tries to be part of the community in which she lives, trying to play a fundamental and useful role in it, collaborating, helping, showing herself present and increasingly autonomous. Every one of us has felt that need for acceptance and recognition. We like to be around other people whom we appreciate, respect, and care for.

To exemplify ​​the need to belong in a more concrete way, I would like to talk about a person who was quite close to me. Daniel was a neighbor of mine for about four years, until I had to move five years ago. Besides being a neighbor, he was one of my best friends. When I met him, he was nine years old, and we used to play every afternoon in his backyard. I got to know his personality more deeply, and he began to have more trust in me. At one point, Daniel started talking to me about his relationship with his schoolmates. Daniel told me that, despite the fact that he considered himself a very kind and respectful person, his classmates never made him feel part of the group, nor did they include him in any type of activity. This made Daniel wonder if he was doing something wrong, or if his attitude was the reason for what was happening.

The situation, logically, made Daniel feel more depressed and confused. Every day it was the same story: his classmates did not approach him to have even one conversation or establish a friendship. Daniel gradually realized that his classmates excluded him from their group because of his personal tastes and his way of thinking about certain matters, since they were not open to ideas or tastes different from their own.

Seeing this, Daniel tried to do the same things that his peers did. He began to have the same attitudes and to behave in the same way that others did. Little by little, Daniel realized that he was ceasing to be himself. That he was leaving aside everything that identified him as a person and made him unique. As a result, with the help of his parents, he began to seek psychological help. After several months and a long process of adaptation, Daniel was able to achieve emotional stability again, with depending on being accepted by everyone.

From then on, Daniel faced the problem in a different way. He took the first steps to make friends and conversation with his peer group. Despite not having the same tastes or opinions, after several attempts and conversations, his classmates realized the great person Daniel was. Of course, it was not an easy or fast process. The truth is that after persevering, Daniel managed to make good friends, and together they helped and supported each other, expressing their ideas and personal tastes, always maintaining respect for each other.

The need for acceptance is part of our self-esteem. If we feel integrated and recognized, we will feel safer and, therefore we will perceive more value in ourselves, which will improve our self-concept and self-esteem. Living in a society means being part of it, which implies acceptance and recognition of the rest of the people that make up that society or group. Especially when a new member appears, the need for acceptance is accentuated—not only for those who are new, but also for those who are already part of that social environment.

Arriving in a group or a new place means that no one knows us and first impressions predominate, so we often submit to the pressure to create a favorable image so that our later integration is easier.

But, on the other hand, those who receive a new member also feel that need for acceptance because their environment can be shaken or they may already feel excluded before the arrival of a new person.

Acceptance is identifying with the society to which we belong and with the group of people around us. We each have a role based on our personality and our way of behaving. How much people appreciate us will be more or less positive depending on these elements. Some people with fragile self-esteem feel another type of need for acceptance; they are dependent on others. Their self-esteem is built only through the judgments that other people make of them. They have no confidence in themselves and are deeply afraid of being rejected. By constantly depending on external evaluations, they cannot form their own self-concept since there are always opinions for and against any of us.

Those who have this exaggerated need for acceptance behave in a variable way, and usually seek the recognition and approval of the majority of the people around them. They turn to others to receive praise and are willing to put the wishes of others before their own. They are capable of performing acts against their will just to get that desired recognition or avoid possible rejection. The very idea of ​​ feeling rejected is something terrible and unacceptable. This need for belonging cancels their self-esteem because it fluctuates depending on the people they meet and the social reinforcement they receive.

Inevitably, sometimes the balance between the attention received and the energy they invest is broken because they are not sufficiently rewarded. Faced with this situation, they redouble their efforts, leading to great physical and psychological excesses that can cause serious problems, such as substance abuse, trauma, anxiety or depression.

If we build strong self-esteem, based on self-confidence and our own tastes and needs, and we direct our own goals, we will stop being slaves to the assessment that anyone can make of us. It is important to know how to recognize the acceptance of our social environment without fear of the possibility of being rejected by people that we may not even know.

Sofia Mesh is an 11th grader at Millenium High School in New York City. In her spare time, she enjoys baking, reading inspirational literature, and international travel.

Koralie Pharel is a 17-year-old student at Quisqueya Christian School in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. She likes to read and discover new things.

Elías Viveros is a 17-year-old from Coronel Oviedo, Paraguay. He likes to travel, visit new places, and learn about new cultures. He loves to watch sports, especially tennis. Elías also likes to read articles about science.

Kavya Shah is a 16-year-old, with powerful opinions and an inclination towards the literary crafts. She studies at the Riverside School in Ahmedabad, India and loves exploring and unveiling new possibilities and avenues. In her free time, you will find her with her nose in a book, or spending time with those she loves and cares about.

Mental Health in Our Communities

by Keesha Joseph, Anahis Luna, Satya Shaw, and Samantha Singh

This inaugural Belonging Project aims to help bring light to mental health and the stigma that surrounds it among the various communities around the world. A team of writers, artists, and podcasters challenge themselves to tackle the subject fully and honestly. They hope to combine their hearts to educate listeners and viewers, and give resources to those struggling with mental health.

Three members of The Belonging Project conducted interviews exploring mental health and stigma with people in their communities, while one editor wrote and recited a poem on the same subject.

Waveform audio sample

Solemn
by Anahis Luna

"I wanted to get a sense of the gloominess and uncertainty that many of us experienced during the pandemic; to capture, in a portrait, our collective emotions." - Anahis

Salvation
by Keesha Joseph

"I was reminiscing about the old days when I came up with a rough sketch of this piece. I originally didn't plan on making this the final artwork, but once I fully came up with the idea, I gave up my previous outlines and explored this concept. I call it "Salvation," but it refers more to the idea of "self-forgiveness"; in the sense that the only one holding you back is yourself. I wanted to venture in with the belief of 'sometimes we have to get the bad stuff out before we start seeing the good,' and I continued with the piece as it was. Although there were some added changes to the final draft, I think the whole picture of 'self-conflict' really came through." - Keesha

Lament of One for Many
by Satya Shaw

I took on the task of writing a poem
On something that so many people fight
Day in and day out.
Something I am afraid of
Something that grows
And tears away at everything it sees
Something that manipulates

Something that keeps you in bed
Cradles you in its warm arms
And makes you never want to leave.

I thought I had it easy
But each time as my pen went down onto the paper
An idea would form
And crumble away
Into dust

I tried writing about someone else
A character
But that didn’t feel genuine
It felt like an insult
To what I and so many other people
Have struggled with and still struggle with today.
A dishonor to the bravery people show
When hanging by a thread
Over a bottomless pit.

I tried writing about myself
But that felt unfair to all the people
With much bigger monsters looming over them.
I needed to write something
That let people,
The lucky people
Who didn’t know,
Know.

Something that
Showed

We’re still the same people
We’re still your friends and family
Even if we’re not at our best.
That being said
We’re not broken
We are not here for you to
Do your good deed of the day

We aren’t here for you to fix.
We all want something different.
We all need something to make us feel better.
All you need to do is listen.

But nothing came.

Draft
after draft
after draft.
Led to nothing.

I thought maybe
Wait until you’re plunged into the depths.
And I waited
And it came
That surge of panic.
The fear that came with it
Was overwhelming
Every bit as scary as I thought it needed to be
To write what I needed to write.

But the words disintegrated on the paper.
Maybe a reaction to the oxygen.

And so
I did everything I could

But write the poem.

It stilled hovered there
At the back of my mind

Slowly taking form.

Until I couldn’t hold back

The pen came rushing back down onto the paper.

My ideas evolved
Without me thinking

There was no more reaction to the oxygen.
I wrote more than I had

And yet,

I still didn’t know how to convey my message.

All I really wanted was to be understood.
For all of us to be understood.

But I know that it takes more work and effort
To understand someone in pain
Then most people are willing to give.

So I’ll leave you with that.
Take from it what you will.
Leave what you will.
I don’t really know what I’m trying to say here.
Or if I got anything across in a meaningful way.

But this contains my heart and soul.

And I hope it makes a difference.


Keesha Joseph is a junior in high School and hails from Port-au-Prince, Haiti. She loves reading and writing both stories and poetry, and considers music her second life. She watches anime whenever she gets the chance, and dreams of traveling to exotic places.

Anahis Luna is a high school senior from Memphis, Tennessee. When she's not stressing over coursework or trying a new paint technique, you can find her obsessing over The Beatles and cookbook recipes.

Satya Shaw is an eighth-grader at Saint Ann's School in Brooklyn, New York. He loves to read, sing, and hang out with his friends. His dream is to become an actor.

Samantha Singh is an eighth grader who attends Wayzata Central Middle School in Plymouth, Minnesota. She loves to write, read, and design and create STEM-related products to better her community.


Sofia Mesh is an 11th grader at Millenium High School in New York City. In her spare time, she enjoys baking, reading inspirational literature, and international travel.

Koralie Pharel is a 17-year-old student at Quisqueya Christian School in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. She likes to read and discover new things.

Kavya Shah is a 16 year old, with powerful opinions and an inclination towards the literary crafts. She studies at the Riverside School in Ahmedabad, India and loves exploring and unveiling new possibilities and avenues. In her free time, you will find her with her nose in a book, or spending time with those she loves and cares about.

Elías Viveros is a 17-year-old from Coronel Oviedo, Paraguay. He likes to travel, visit new places, and learn about new cultures. He loves to watch sports, especially tennis. Elías also likes to read articles about science.