Last friday I went to the mission on my own. As I came down from lunch I entered upon the children acting out provocative sexual dance moves. I almost lost my composure. I tried to explain that was not a way to respect oneself and that just because you see family members dancing that way does not make it appropriate. They know that I love to dance so I explained that I don't dance that way. However the environment was not exactly conducive to a teaching moment since the kids were mortified having been caught. Later that day one of the girls again was acting out this same sexual dance move. I took her aside and sat face to face with her. I tried to explain to her that acting in such a way was not respecting herself and that God loves her so much that he wants the best of life for her. I told her that God loves her body, mind and spirit and wants her to treat herself with great respect and care and act in a way to demand respect from boys (the body being a temple for the Spirit of God being on the forefront of my mind). She clearly understood and expressed desire that boys respect her. This was a great relief that she understood this concept. I told her how much I loved her and that was why I was taking the time to talk to her. She nodded her head in affirmation gave me a big hug and a kiss on the cheek. I think that was the best that conversation could have gone, when talking to a 9 year old.
That same day I finally realized that Santiago, at 10 years old, is illiterate. He doesn't know the spanish alphabet. You can imagine how frustrating and embarrassing that could be for him when we are asking him to know the English alphabet and spell words in English. This is an enormous key to his disciplinary problems. I am a bit sick that it took five months for me to realize this. I don't know how this escaped us 'till now. I suppose looking back on it, I just thought he was being indignant and uncooperative. The second occurrence being that we didn't begin using the whiteboard (written material and exercises) until three weeks ago.
This Wednesday I had to put Santiago in time-out. When it was time for him to return to the group I had spoken with Father Jose for permission to give Santiago lessons in the alphabet and spelling. Father Jose gave me a notebook, a pencil and his blessing. I sat down in front of Santiago on the floor. I looked at him and told him that I understood why we were having such issues during class and asked if he would like me to help him learn the spanish alphabet and how to spell. With his eyes to the ground he nodded his head yes. I asked if he would work with me so that I could help him, again he nodded his head yes. I directed his gaze to my eyes by gently tilting his chin up. I looked him in the eyes and told him that I loved him, gave him a kiss on the forehead and told him that I would help him and that I needed his help. He seemed to understand so I sent him back into class.
So class went quite well that day. However when it was time to go out to play, that was another story. The previous day the mother of some of our students had come by the mission and expressed how she didn't want the children (her children) to play in the road anymore because there is too much traffic and too dangerous. Makes sense, but after five months why now? Well, I had already had the same concern so I brought it up with the Father and asked to take them to the other side of the school. He was fine with it. So the process to getting to the other side of the school (about 50 meters or less away) was trying. I didn't realize what a struggle it would be to break these kids out of there routine. Heaven forbid I love them enough to not want them plowed down by a motorcycle or car. The following 10 minuets was a trial and failure of my patients as the kids one after another and in unison began to whine and complain and put on their bratty faces about how horrible this new place was to play. Good grief, less traffic, more peaceful and we wouldn't have to dodge the hoard that comes down the hill when school lets out. Well, it wasn't my finest hour as I lost my temper and declared that we would not be playing that day and ordered everyone to return to the mission.
My temperature was up and so to cool off I took a break in the back. It was at this point that Audra and I had an impromptu teacher-director meeting with Father Jose Romero. In this discussion we identified some of the individuals who would benefit from a tutorial of the alphabet, reading and writing. Being that the kids are entering into a three week break we decided that upon returning to their regular school schedule we will separate those who need this extra help and hold their classes in a separate room. It is ironic that we came to teach English and what they actually need is to know how to manage their native language.
Now don't misunderstand me, Santiago still has some major disciplinary issues to work through, but I can't help but assume that taking care of this literacy issue will go a long way to helping him out as well as the other children. In this meeting Father Jose told us that Dylan's mom is in prison. For what, I don't know, but that is most likely why he has taken to calling me "mama" lately. I discourage him calling me this. Is that the right direction to take? It was also explained that many women of this community support themselves through prostitution and their children were not planned and don't know who the father is. This makes for a very complicated situation. So here we are as strangers in this country serving as mentors to children from this kind of environment. What are we to do? I am trying to strike a balance between the love of fun and laughter and discipline, especially in terms of respect. It is a hard line to walk. I just pray that the Episcopal missionaries, Audra and I and the missionaries to follow, can give these children an opportunity to better their lives. I love these children and want them to succeed in the world. The cards seem to be stacked against them, however in a world where God lowered himself into flesh as Christ who suffered and died that we may have life abundant, their is hope for every child. I hold on to this hope of Christ's transformative grace.
Blessings and Peace to All