Monday, October 6, 2008

About an after-school program

I don't think I told any of you about this so I think I will take time now to do so. Two weeks ago I went with some women (3 others) I met at the International Women's club to an after school program that started at 1pm and ended around 4pm. It is suppose to be for young children maybe 5-7 years old. The program is held at an elementary school in two or three of the class rooms. The idea is that they help children learn the basics necessary for reading, writing, math,etc. Some need to learn to speak English.

The school is in Katatura which is the very poor area of the city of Windhoek. I really did not know what to expect. When we arrived there were 40-50 kids. Their ages ran from 4-14 I would guess. It was very chaotic and the supplies were VERY limited. Very few books, no coloring supplies, scarce pencils or paper, a few matching games, and counting cards. There were a few etch-a-sketch type things but, they did not work very well at all. I have to admit that I was terrified! These kids were all at different levels in their skills. Some had no idea what I was saying because they could not speak English. Others were trying to learn to count or their ABCs. Some were further along and a few were even doing homework. 5-6 kids were gathered around the table I was at and they all needed different help. They all kept saying teacher or pulling on my clothes for my attention. Finally I realized what each of the children wanted, ATTENTION! I have never been sat on, hugged, teased (in a kind way), and held on to so much in my life! We finally split into two rooms and played simple games with the kids. I was in the room with the older ones maybe 8-14.

The kids would beg to sit next to you and even the 2 to 3 older girls eventually ended up next to me and would tap my shoulder and pretend like they hadn't. When I would catch them they would just giggle like little kids. They all wanted to feel my hair as well. Several would call me "mama". They all asked me and the other women if we would come back the next day. There is usually only 1-2 local women who are with the children each day. This is a tiny program. There are others that have hundreds of children who come. They even have to turn many away. It was an amazing experience but, it was heartbreaking as well. A few children had really bad sores that appeared to need medical attention. Most the kids did not have shoes. Their clothing was old and often to small. One of the older girls had on a skirt held together on the side with safety pins all down it. This was not a fashion statement, just a real necessity. Several of the little girls had on dresses and skirts that were way to short because they were too little. I kept wanting to pull it down so you couldn't see their panties. All I could think about was the rape and abuse of young women and girls in that area. I wanted to just bring all the kids home with me.

I plan to go back as soon as I can. The woman I ride with usually goes every Thurs. but, I was sick last week and her daughter is sick now. I hope this week we can go. I guess the hardest part about the whole thing was that the kids just wanted you to notice and talk to them. They really didn't seem to care who I was as long as I was interested in them. All these kids come from very poor families and some of them are in pretty bad situations from what I was told. I was so ashamed of some of the things that I have thrown away in the U.S. These children had on stuff I would use as old rags or just throw out. Me and the other women obviously looked wealthy compared to the children just by our clothes, shoes, and jewelry but, the kids didn't seem to notice. If they did it didn't seem to be an issue. In the U.S. we throw away better things than many people here own. I realize even being homeless in the U.S. is being better off than these people. Think of all the stuff we throw out. If food gets too old then we don't want it anymore. If fruits or veggies get a little brown they are tossed. Restaurants and grocery stores throw out tons of food. Please do not think I am telling you this to make you feel guilty I am just trying to work it out for myself. I really don't know how to put the great wealth I posses next to the great poverty these people endure. I am so rich compared to most in Africa. I am having a hard time witnessing all this. I knew it was going to be hard coming here but, some days it is overwhelming.

The one thing I keep going back to is this: everything I have ever done that was worthwhile was because I just took a step and showed up. Most of the time I had no idea what I was getting into but, that was the beauty of it all. If you just put yourself out there you never know how God will use you in someone else's life. Or maybe how God will have someone else change you. I am certain I did nothing for those children on that Thursday afternoon and I am positive that I do very little for the homeless people who I help out with on Wednesdays at the church. I do know for certain what all of them do for me and that is to be greatly humbled by them. They all remind me of how life could be very different and how embarrassingly rich I am. They can laugh and find joy even though they have almost nothing. I struggle not to pack up and come home so that I don't have to see all this. It is really hard!! I just want to ignore it all sometimes but, I know that is not what I am suppose to do. I have been called to be a witness here for some reason. Why God would want that of me is something I am still trying to figure out. I guess, if nothing else, that I was just willing to show up. I often never know why I was suppose to do something until long after I have finished. Don't ever underestimate what a difference you may make just by showing up to do something. You may find it was all about you getting something wonderful and priceless in return. Thank you for letting me "talk" this out a bit. I am still trying to process this. I hope you are all well. You all are in my prayers. Penny


mho said...

This is about as honest as the beginning of a theological reflection gets.. and it's so big ou may be unpacking it for the rest of your life. But that's what big gifts are all about ...unpacking them.
I have just begun a course at the local hospital with other ministers from the area on pastoral care and the healing power of just being there...

Rev. Cori said...

Hi Penny. I sat down to work on an idea for tomorrow's youth group. I read your blog as a way to avoid doing the work. But in your blog, I was brought up short. This is my work. Showing up in the lives of kids and the parish. And now, your blog will be my lesson with the kids tomorrow night.

You and Jeremy are in my prayers. I miss you guys.