At 4pm yesterday, my students and I set off once again for the Children’s Home. It was raining, but since it was a short walk, we decided to go on foot anyway. I ended up behind one of the Colombian girls, Juanita. I noticed her turning at a corner that seemed to be the shortcut another student had discovered the last time we went. I kept walking as I spoke to one of the other students, a new Colombian guy who had joined us at the last minute.
Suddenly, Juanita stopped and turned around, “Is this the right way?” We both looked at the dead end in front of us. “Why did you trust me?” she exclaimed, laughing. “I thought you knew where you were going,” I replied.
Christian’s scooter pulled up beside us, carrying him and Eliana. They told us they had also gotten completely lost, going all the way to Garden Centre by mistake. We stood in the rain, shaking with laughter. After back tracking, we got onto the main road again and eventually reached our destination, appearing at the front gate like a bunch of drowned rats. By that time, Juan Pablo and Jhonathan, who had wanted to finish the last few minutes of their video game, had caught up to us. We went inside and sat down on the couches in the living room… the usual procedure.
The kids were busy studying for their exams and the caregiver asked if we could wait fifteen minutes for them to finish.
“So what’s your plan, guys?” I asked.
Jhonathan, who had orchestrated it all, explained that each person had prepared different areas of Spanish vocabulary to teach. He thought it best the kids be divided into small groups. Each group would start off with one teacher and each 10-15 minutes, the teachers would rotate. At around 5pm, the kids rushed over, talking excitedly. They formed their own groups, girls sticking together, guys the same. They gravitated towards the students they’d met before, obviously remembering them and wanting to connect again. I started off watching Juanita teach the modes of transportation. She had a picture of each as well as the word on her laptop.
“Bar-co,” she said, “Repeat after me, barco.”
After they’d been through the list, she described the words in English and saw if they could produce the Spanish.
“What do we use on the water?”
“Barco!” the little girls yelled.
Juanita was a natural teacher, speaking slowly and clearly, with contagious enthusiasm. Her whole group beamed. The little girl who had braided my hair a few weeks ago noticed me behind them, jumped up and threw her arms around me.
“I love you,” she said.
I felt my heart stop and I swallowed hard, “I love you, too.”
I went over to the next group, where Christian was teaching students how to identify fruit. He’d brought around ten pictures and, like Juanita, started out having the kids repeat the names in Spanish. Then he gave each child two pictures and had them teach the rest of the group. Humble, kind and patient, he was also an inspiration to watch. To the left, Juan Pablo, another Ecuadorian student, was teaching clothes, using what he was wearing as examples. The other Christian was teaching numbers. Eliana was using her laptop to present parts of the house.
“Okay, teachers, time to move!” Jhonathan stood up and shouted.
Nobody budged; the students were still completely engaged in their activity.
“Please finish and move,” he shouted again. Kids started to stand up. A tiny Colombian with eyebrow piercing and a unique laugh standing in the middle of the room, he looked quite amusing.
In his thick Spanish accent, he shouted again, “No, no, the teachers will move!”
Laughing, the teachers got up and moved to the right, finding other children to instruct.
I walked from group to group, watching the students enthusiastically sharing their language with the kids. The kids’ eyes were bright, and the teachers’ enjoyment written all over their faces. I sat down on one of the couches and one of the older girls rushed over to me.
“We’re hiding from the fruit people,” she exclaimed, pointing at Christian.
She said her group had deserted her and she didn’t want to be there alone.
“Do you speak another language as well?” she asked.
I nodded and said I could speak French. Her face lit up.
“I know a bit but you can teach me!”
I told her a few basic phrases and had her repeat them. She caught on quickly. Probably around sixteen, at the time, I’d met this young girl, she’d had a broken leg and was crawling along the floor in order to join in our charades game. I was struck by the way she smiled and joked in spite of her situation. I heard one of the girls asking how to say I love you, and then directing it at Christian, her numbers teacher at the time. Everyone laughed.
“I want to kiss him,” she said, giggling.
Jhonathan clapped his hands, gathering everyone to teach a Spanish kids song about chickens. Then we started to sing happy birthday.
“Cumple anos feliz…Cumple anos a Antonio!” Jhonathan grabbed Christian and pulled him into the centre of the circle.
“No esta mi cumple!” Christian protested, but Jhonathan told him we needed someone to pretend to be the birthday boy.
“Kiss, kiss!” everyone began to yell, urging the besotted girl to go up and wish “Antonio” happy birthday. Christian was turning progressively redder.
“Okay, okay,” he agreed to give her a kiss on the cheek. She went up to him slowly, but turned away at the last minute. Finally they had a hug, amidst big cheers from the audience. I noticed it was 6pm, and signaled to Jhonathan it was time to go.
“Gracias!” he shouted, “We’ll be back the next week.”
Christian’s admirer ran up to me, “Dani, we won’t be here next week, it’s out weekend.” That was the weekend where kids went to host families.
“Okay, we’ll come back the week after then,” I told her.
Kids ran up to all of us in turn, hugging us goodbye and thanking us, telling us they loved us. What a change from when we had first visited a few weeks ago and most of them hadn’t even said goodbye. We all walked out smiling, the warmth in our hearts making up for the cold outside.