Exploring the experiences of youth in a development program with integrated physical activity in Costa Rica
Barreda, Gemma J.
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National governments, the United Nations, and other organizations have deemed sport and other means of physical activity such as recreation, games and play for development a useful means for addressing a wide range of problems in communities and more specifically, providing youth with an opportunity to experience the benefits of physical activity. There is a need for research that furthers our understanding of how participants experience these programs. Specifically, the purpose of this study, was to better understand the lived experiences of the participants in a YMCA camp program that integrated physical activity and play for the specific development of poor youth street workers. A phenomenological approach infonned by a critical perspective (Creswell, 2003; Rossman & Rallis, 2003) was used. The study took place through the Asociaci6n Cristiana de J6venes de Costa Rica (ACJ) in Central America. The focus was on a camp program and the lived experiences of six purposefully chosen, youth street workers between the ages of 13-17. Their experiences were explored through semi-structured interviews. Other data that fonn the study include: field notes, observations, a reflexive journal and document analysis. The findings that emerged from the data include main themes of relationships, poverty, personal change and empowennent. For many youth, the ACJ is a relatively safe place to play, to "detach," their minds, to "distract" and "disorient" themselves from their dysfunctional families, violent neighbourhood, the poverty they live in, and from the necessity of having to work in the street to supplement the family income. Although many studies have shown that programs that include physical activity, play and/or sport have a positive impact on youth with regard to healthy development and improvements in well-being, there has been little work done to address the voices and experiences of the youth that participate in these programs. Using an interpretive-critical approach, this study focused on the participants' personal backgrounds, their experiences within the program and their critical reflections on the program. This study draws from a phenomenological philosophy and method to report findings from participants in an ACJ program in Costa Rica. This research shows how these youth were given the opportunity to use the program and the ACJ property as a relatively safe place to play, to behave like the youth they are, to establish and maintain their friendship networks, and develop empathy and conflict resolution skills. The fmdings from this study reveal how by participating in the ACJ program they each described a personal change, wherein they felt empowered to learn they could positivel y control themselves and as a result positively affect their own futures. These fmdings contribute knowledge surrounding the lived experiences of youth in developmental programs that use physical activity.