Thursday, January 16, 2014

How Can Four Hours Stimulate So Much Joy?

One local project I've helped at twice since arriving and have arranged my teaching schedule this term to be free every Wednesday so I can participate in it, is a morning daycare/school for ~ eighty 2-6 year olds who are the children of women who sell at the market or are prostitutes.  This beautiful mission is run by the Servants of Mary of the Heart of Jesus, a religious congregation from Brazil that has both brothers and sisters in it, and Monday through Friday, 7:30 am – 12:30 pm, the brothers and sisters welcome the children to their property for meals, classes, games, and prayers. 

Classroom time
Words cannot describe the beauty of this mission or the effect it has on me.  When I am there, I am full of joy and love.  When I return home, I still feel full, if that makes sense; full of contentment, satisfaction, joy, peace, and other things that make one feel great.  Even looking at photos from my visits makes me happy.

Concretely, here is what the mission looks like and what I have done to help while there.  The children start to arrive at 7:30 am and once they all get there, they are fed breakfast (a roll and a banana).  I passed out the food once and the children would reach out to touch my hand or hold my arm and wouldn't want to let go.  I would caress their faces to show I was attentive to them, but then I would have to pull away to continue passing out the food.  After breakfast, there is some play time as the dining room is cleaned and then the kids take turns going into the bathroom to brush their teeth and wash their faces and then change into their school uniforms.  Once they are dressed, they divide into four classes based on age and are taught Kinyarwanda, English, and French.  My first time there, I grabbed a small white board that had the English alphabet on it and began to teach in the different classrooms.  I taught them, “A for apple, B for bird, C for cat, etc,” and the English names of the safari animals that are painted on the dining room walls.  I made animal sounds and actions when appropriate (such as “L for lion and M for monkey”) and the kids enjoyed acting like monkeys along with me.  After the classes finish, lunch is served (one time it was rice with peas, green beans, and meat mixed together) and then we all go outside to play and to wait for their parents or older siblings to pick them up.
What is so touching about the mission is the love and care I am able to give to the children.  I don't know if it is because I am white, but the kids love to be with, and on, me.  When I stand, they hug me and fight over who can hold onto my hands and arms.  When I sit, they rush to sit on my lap and gather around me.  They stroke my hair, touch my arms and my face, compare my religious medals on my necklace to theirs, pull my arms around their shoulders, and hold my hands.  I don't mind this invasion of personal space at all.  I usually laugh and offer them the affection they want by rubbing my hands through their hair (or stubble), caressing their faces, tickling their necks and sides, and letting them use me as their chair/pillow/backrest.  I look forward to having Wednesdays mostly free so I can serve weekly at this mission of joy.