Today is Friday -the final day of our Monday, Wednesday, Friday English class schedule. On each of those days we teach 3 classes to the children of Manos de Amor Casa Hogar. These children are living at Casa Hogar because their parents or caregivers need a helping hand. A few have no parents. Many have 1. Lots of grandmas have stepped in. They have all experienced great trauma in their young lives – abuse, prostitution, alcoholism. And poverty. A lot of poverty.
So 3 days a week we arrive at the home with our bag full of worksheets and crafts and videos and songs and tablets. We have divided the groups by age. The 6-9 year olds have learned about colors and families and counting to 20 and greetings and this week we learned about Day and Night. We are working on vocabulary but also trying to learn some sentences. “I have 4 shoes”. “Touch something red with your nose”. They love songs and sing them REALLY LOUD. I expect the whole neighborhood now knows the days of the week. They especially love the English learning apps we have on the tablets that we use once a week or so.
The oldest children – those 10 and over – use the Duolingo language learning app. We don’t really have to teach them – we are there to help when they are stuck and to do group review from time to time. We are also there to stop their little fingers from ‘accidentally’ going to the App store and ‘surprisingly’ downloading games. “I don’t know how that happened Karen”. Sure you don’t. We do reward them with a few minutes of game time to keep them coming back. I love using this app because each child moves at his or her pace and new students can join at any time.
The funnest class is the littles, the 4-6 year olds. They are hilarious and are actually learning quite a few words. They are the ones who speak to me in English every chance they get. “Hello, my name is Azbeth, how are you I am fine and you?” They just run it all together and are so proud. This week they learned shapes and today we finished the week by making Shape Guy heads. They practiced shapes and face parts and colors on one little craft and they were pretty excited with the final product once they had added some butterflies and dogs and family members.
We are having fun but I have to admit that some days I look around at the needs and problems in this country and I wonder what possible difference it will make if Jose knows the difference between a square and a rectangle. Will knowing their colors keep 12-year-old girls from getting pregnant and will greeting gringos in English stop boys from becoming trapped by alcohol? Today after our final class we drove children from 3 families to their homes for the weekend and as I am every Friday, I was saddened by what I saw. How can we think our little classes can make a difference?
But as I held babies and hugged toddlers, and stepped in poopy diapers littered on the ground, I smiled. Yes, if children here learn English they will have an opportunity to secure a better paying job in the tourism industry. But these 4-year-olds aren’t out looking for jobs. What they are looking for is acceptance, confidence, affection, hope, safety and security. For LOVE. I watched Jose show his sisters and his niece Lupita his Shape Guy and I realized that for a few minutes today he felt proud of himself. For at least an hour he experienced confidence and creativity and joy. I remembered the look on Jorge’s face when he told me he had finished 8 Duolingo lessons. The cheer Mareli let out when she finished a whole section of today’s learning app.
Our English class is not going to change Pricila’s life. But maybe it will bring a tiny bit of healing to her broken heart. Her mom isn’t there for her – but on Monday and Wednesday and Friday I can be.
As we left each of these children at their homes today – I really hate doing that – I did what I do each week. I opened their little hands, tapped my fingers to their palms and then touched their palms to their hearts, “Okay, here is Jesus. Don’t forget he’s going to be here with you all weekend. You’re going to be ok”.
I realized what our class has to offer these little ones. – it offers US. Our hearts. Our acceptance. Our love. And really, that’s all any of us have to offer.