When I was little, there'd always come a point in the day when I would set aside my coloring, take my mom a piece of paper, and ask for math. She would patiently write out a sheet of numbers for me to trace, to match with drawings of the same number of flowers or stars, and to practice writing their names. Eventually, I wanted more: addition and subtraction problems that grew increasingly complex and transitioned into multiplication and division. My mom was not trained as a teacher; she had no scope and sequence to follow or workbooks from the store, and with us and my aunt and uncles (who she also raised), I am certain that she had other things to do! However, she saw in me a love of numbers that - then - matched my love of words and an unquenchable desire to immerse myself in learning, and she did what she could to encourage me.
I have been at Our Little Roses girls' home in San Pedro Sula for a poetry fellowship for only four days. I will be working with grades 4-11 at the adjacent Holy Family Bilingual School with students who come from both Our Little Roses and the local community. I am extremely excited, of course, because I don't just have a love of writing and teaching poetry; for me, poetry is like breathing clean air off of the ocean. I could probably live without it, but there would always be an aching need inside of me. Over these few days, though, I have just been trying to get to know the girls, mostly spending time with them over meals, their bright smiles infectious - even though I know it is also a kind of armor that many women use. I'm fine. Don't get too close. You'll never know what's going on inside this mind, this heart.
One afternoon, a little one, I'll call her Estrella, came up to me with a deck of cards. She didn't take notice of (or, now that I have spent more time with her, I can say with a smile that she had no time for!) the anxiety that often overwhelms me when it comes to speaking very much Spanish, and I felt myself relaxing, saying more and more as the game went on. We stumbled at times in our communication, and we resorted to hand gestures once or twice, but we laughed and had a really good time. More girls came into the room, and I took out a coloring book and markers for an activity that would accommodate the continually growing group. While focused on their creativity, they let their guards down a bit, talking more freely without (as much of) the veil of distant politeness that is usually a barrier between their real selves and me. They painstakingly selected pictures, often ignoring impatient pleas of "¡Vamos!". Like typical siblings, the girls bickered over markers and talked over one another for my attention, just as I remember my sisters and me doing when we were little and colored with our mom or aunt. Also like then, the fussing never continued for long, and most of the time was spent in simple enjoyment. Now when they find me in the library, the girls ask if I have any more coloring pages. (Unfortunately, the answer is no! Rookie mistake: I brought one book and didn't think to photocopy the pages before we used them all!)
Yesterday, though, Estrella saw a workbook that my Spanish tutor gave me and began flipping through it. When she came to the pages with numbers, she lit up in a way that I hadn't seen before - and she is always very animated. She rapidly began to count in Spanish and then English, showing off her skills before asking for a pencil, so she could write the numbers. She finished several pages in the short time before I had to go and really wanted to keep the book, but I needed it for some of the vocabulary review. I promised her that I would be back today. I wasn't sure if she would want to continue or something else, but as soon as she saw me, she exclaimed, "Mås tareas (more homework)!!" I sat with her and wrote out a the words of the numbers in Spanish and English. She wrote them and drew the quantity of stars to match. As had happened before, more girls appeared, and they wanted to do the same thing as Estrella. Unlike the coloring, though, their enthusiasm seemed less for the task itself and more for the time with me, a new person in their midst. Estrella, though, was fully focused on her work. When she was done, she showed me her paper, not for approval or attention, but for "Mås, por favor." Seeing the fire for numbers and math in this tiny eight-year-old girl, who had no access to education before coming to Our Little Roses, made me want to forget about all of the other things that I came here to do and make sheet after sheet for her, day after day. Her responsibilities intruded on that, though, because her teacher, a learning specialist who comes to the school to work with her and other girls who need it, came in to remind her that she had to go to morning classes.
As a teacher, a lot of angst comes from seeing kids with so much potential, heart, and passion to learn and not knowing what the future will bring; will they will continue to have that same spark or will something stifle it? Will they get the breaks that they need? Will they be ok? I always wish that I could flip through a book that would answer those questions for me, but I just have to have faith. Besides, Estrella and all of the girls here at Our Little Roses are strong; they have already overcome various negative circumstances that may have broken others. No matter what avenues they pursue, I think their strength and irrepressibility will see them through to their own adventures.
A lot of you have been in touch about sending coloring books. International shipping is prohibitively expensive and unreliable. Our Little Roses has an office in Miami where packages can be sent. Items are then brought by the next available courier from the office. If you want to send something, consider coloring books, markers, printer paper, construction paper. More information is below (and you can - of course - find even more on the website).
Mail boxes and soft-pack envelopes to:
P.O. Box 530733
Miami Shores, FL 33153-0733
All cards and gifts are opened prior to being sent to Honduras. We ask that you not send cash or checks directly to the girls.
To ensure a secure and timely delivery of your cards and gifts:
• Place your gifts in clear zip-lock bags and write your girl’s name on the outside of each bag. This makes it easy to distribute the gifts to girls.
• PLEASE DO NOT wrap gifts in boxes or send gifts in themed bags with tissue and bows. This becomes an unnecessary and environmentally unfriendly waste product in Honduras.
• Keep packages lightweight as items are hand-carried by a courier traveling to San Pedro Sula.
• Prepare TWO copies listing the contents of each box/package and include your name, address, email and phone number on the list.
• Place one copy of the list of contents inside the box/package.
• Place a second copy of the contents list in a separate envelope with a $10 check per box made payable to OLRFMS and mail to the OLRFMS office in Miami.
• PLEASE DO NOT fill the box with plastic bags, styrofoam peanuts, newspaper, etc. as these create environmentally unfriendly disposal problems in Honduras.