News video of families being separated at our southern borders this summer haunted me. I wanted to go help, but I do not have the skills needed. So I looked around me and found World Relief and became an English as Second Language tutor for a family new to the US and moving to North Carolina two months earlier.
A Burmese family of eight, and I know almost nothing about them. I don’t know what fresh hell they are trying to leave behind or what they had to do to get here.
Because I know that hearing empowering stories helps us all see a way to help, I wrote the following journal on the boys’ first day of school. I had been meeting weekly with the full family with six boys and their parents, but on Day #1 of school, I had only the parents and their infant.
I know the truth of the Kenyan legend about the hummingbird who commits to doing all he can even though those are small things. Others who watch the hummingbird may be inspired to find their own ways to build a strong community.
School started today, so Ler, Toe, Chit, Lah, and Kyaw had their first day of school in America.
Today Dad and baby Egulitar were in the living room when I arrived. He let me in and left me with a giggling baby who knows that I bounce him on my lap and make funny noises and faces. Mom had been sleeping, and she came wrapped in green fabrics, carrying her pencil and notebook labeled with “red” on a sticky note from our first afternoon together.
As the three of us sat on the floor with Egulitar, Dad pointed to me and gestured for him to go. Egulitar grasped my outstretched fingers, laughed and swiveled around to pull himself up — took a few brand new steps toward me — parents beamed — and then suddenly sat down on a ploppy diaper. Postponing my lesson plan, we all four focused on what it means to “Stand up. Sit down.” I write the words and draw up and down arrows, adding gestures for good measure. We review “hands, fingers, legs, arms, feet, toes” using the best teaching tool ever! Mom writes the words, works to say the letters like me. What strange accent will be the combination of my midwesterner-turned-southerner and her atonal Karen? She writes an alphabet I could never learn above the words she copies from my page. The letters are all loops, so much more graceful than English that now appears full of straight lines and angles.
Egulitar loves our focus. He stands when we all chant, “Stand up.” We’re all excited with “UP”. We’re delighted with “Sit down.” He adds “Turn around.” How to draw “around?” Connect “around” to “round” and “circle” from 3 weeks ago and review “square and triangle” while Egulitar scoots after a balloon.
Mom and I rediscover “blue” and see “balloon” in a book in my bag.
The blue balloon goes UP. The blue balloon comes DOWN. Despite being in school all my life, my most valuable skill is to pull the end of a balloon and make it fly. And that is enough. Laugher falls around us.
Dad moves into the kitchen with Egulitar. Mom and I move into the new counting book, adding more nouns to numbers. One cat. Two birds. Three apples. Four fish. Five cows. Six bananas.
Dad rejoins us; Mom captures a few more words; and when she has enough to finish the little book on her own, we all celebrate with “Stand UP….Sit DOWN … and Turn around.” Egulitar is our star.
We don’t even need to figure out day, date, and time for my next visit. That’s just too many words and concepts to hurdle without Mom’s grasp on the calendar. And all those words are unnecessary. They’ll open their door and welcome me in whenever I return.
As a recently re-retired educator, Cheryl Beeson is reinventing her life with the guiding question, “Is this something I love?” Her core values of Meaningful Work, Acceptance,and Zest remain strong, and Cheryl is finding new avenues. Certified Transformational Coaching, supporting Paideia schools, learning what it takes to run a NC Senate campaign for a longtime friend, gardening, and volunteering with World Relief are keeping her busy.