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Inscription Day

June 4, 2007

Today, I get to help with registering children from Villa Esperanza in Empowerment International’s 2007 school year program. Kathy and I walk to the school where the E.I. staff is calmly finishing the final touches on organization for the big day. Half of nearly two hundred children will register today, the other half tomorrow. The walled-in school compound takes me back to the American School of Guadalajara, Mexico where I taught thirty years ago.

2924341750063535620S200x200Q85.jpgI am assigned, along with Kathy and three others, to interview the children and help them write letters to donors. The interview template looks straight forward. I think I understand the Spanish. We open for business and greet the parents and children who arrive at our door. I introduce myself to a very small boy and his mother and ask his name. He stares wide-eyed. His mother nudges to tell his name. Finally, she says it for him.

The room fills with children’s voices. Everyone seems to be talking. Everyone but my little boy. I ask if he has brothers or sisters, if he has a pet, what he likes to play. With each question, he smiles wider. His eyes are big with wonder. He looks at me as if I’m a rare bird. I wonder, does he understand me? I know how different Nica Spanish sounds to my Mexican trained ears. How must I sound to him?

“I’m sorry my Spanish isn’t better,” I tell him and his mother. She says she can understand, but this is his first time. He’s beginning school this year. I try to speak slowly and clearly, shrink closer to him and make my smile as big as the one he shares. I compliment him for being big and brave.

Finally, with much prodding from Mom, we finish. Once finished, he’s as hesitant to leave my table as he was to speak. Through the morning I interview other kids, returning students who are quick to respond and enjoy telling about themselves. I enjoy them all, but my little first-timer is something special. The first-timers are so brave as they make the first steps into the new world of school.

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Midday Yoaska, her sister, and two friends come to register. The young ladies with rod-straight posture and thick shining hair are striking in their immaculate jeans and tops with wide eyes and quick smiles. They offer to stay and help interview other students when they finish. Yoaska answers the last interview question and asks why there is a blank space at the bottom of the page.

“So the volunteers can translate the Spanish into English for the donors,” I answer. She sees a chance to practice the English she’s learning and starts translating her interview. When she gets hung up on something, I help. In no time she finishes.

I’m taken aback to see how much English she’s learned and we show her work to Kathy. After a hug of congratulation, Kathy grins and hands Yoaska a stack of interview forms. Yoaska motions for my help. We work through letter after letter. With each one, she grows more confident. When the English does not match the Spanish grammar, she wants to know why. I do my best to explain. She is so driven to learn and succeed, she frowns with impatience when I take a bathroom break or stand to stretch. At the end of the day, she hands Kathy a thick stack of letters she has completed. Delighted with herself, she gives me a big hug.

Yoaska’s mother has waited for her all afternoon. When I note how bright Yoaska is, how much English she knows, her mom sits tall and gracefully accepts the praise, smiling into her daughter’s eyes.

I walk back to the center of town tired but happy. I’ve been among the parents, children, volunteers, Anielka and Kathyfrancie2.jpg for just two days, but I’ve seen how well they work together. The E.I. staff offers support and holds high expectations and the children respond to meet these expectations. As one who has spent nearly thirty years working with teachers and schoolchildren, it is a pure pleasure to see a program that works so well and accomplishes so much to better the lives of these children, their families, and the community.

~ posted by Sheila McAuliffe

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