Just so you know, this blog is SUPER long-winded, as it is approximately 6 weeks worth of processing and life-alteration all packed into one day-long blogging session… so I want to start things off right (with a picture of cats… what else?) before the delving.
Going for an evening walk sometimes turns into…
Just yesterday, I made an internal pact with myself that I would stop saying the words “I’m sorry,” so much. So when the first thing that came to my mind as I sat down to write this blog was, “I’m sorry for the lack of posts in the last month and a half,” I had to smile to myself. God has a way of bringing these things to our attention right when they need to be.
I don’t normally give a second thought to the word “sorry.” I say it (and hear it) so much in daily life that it sometimes feels like more of a greeting than “hello” and more of a parting word than “goodbye.” A lot of times, before I even say hi to someone, I’m blurting, “sorry I’m late,” or “sorry I didn’t return your text,” or “sorry I have cheese all over my pants, I had to break up a food fight today” (true life). I don’t even get to acknowledge someone’s presence before I’m thinking about all the things that I should or shouldn’t have done or all the things I should or shouldn’t be.
“Sorry” is an old friend of mine, but we’ve become especially re-acquainted over the last month and a half. If you asked me a month and a half ago, I’d say I didn’t think it was possible for life to get any crazier. But these past 6 weeks have proven that the first whirlwind was barely a breeze. If you asked me a month and a half ago, I’d have had had a big smile on my face as I admitted that I didn’t know in what direction I was heading or exactly what work God had in store for me in this year of service. I was armed with little more than a college education, a love of kids, and fresh-faced, perhaps slightly naive dose of excitement, hope, and optimism. If you asked me a month and a half ago, I’d have said yes to absolutely anything, be willing to give up any and all of my time and energy to be that “super YAV” who everyone seems to have in mind. A month and half ago, I was saying a lot less “sorry”s. I think that was all of us a month and a half ago, really.
I’ve learned my limits very quickly here. But not painlessly by any means. The reality of working at the school in Little Haiti hit me hard about a month ago. Because it is a private school in the heart of an extremely low-income neighborhood, they have very little resources and sometimes have trouble keeping permanent staff. I’ve learned that they actually rely heavily on volunteer programs like YAV/DOOR to provide the necessary manpower to keep the school up and running. When I arrived, I expected to be asked do things like coordinate after-school tutoring, organize out-of-school activities for the kids, and perhaps be in charge of some extra office work – essentially picking up some slack in and expanding upon (what I expected to be) an already established system. However, when I arrived, they were in dire need of a new full-time teacher for their Special Education class. I spent the first few weeks working with some of these individual needs students as a tutor (which I loved, and the kids stole my heart), but eventually I was asked to step up to the full time teaching position. I had a lot of hesitation about this, as I had had no real training in education and had not been told to expect teaching my own full class. However, because I had been there long enough to see the dire need of the situation, (the special needs kids had been temporarily placed in the other classes according to age and weren’t getting any of the attention they needed) I agreed to at least try to step in.
It was soon very obvious that this was not the place I needed to be. I at least managed to keep the class under control for a week, but all the while I kept thinking back to all my training and study of irresponsible volunteering and aid work, when people (like myself) who were not qualified to take on a job (for example: teaching 12 special needs students on all different levels) do something that someone else could do much better and end up making the problem a lot worse. A lot of aid work and volunteering can become a band-aid, and in that class, that is what I was. So, after a lot of soul searching and a huge internal battle that I won’t get into because this blog is already going to be too long as it is, I decided to step down and offer my skills in other areas where I could be much more effective.
I am now working in the administrative side of the school, helping with everything from publishing the newsletter to the National School Lunch Program and a lot of things in between. I feel much more helpful and prepared for this kind of service. All day, the office is a blur of child noises, Creole, Spanish, accented and broken English – a medley of voices and sounds that I’ve become quite accustomed to. It replays like a soundtrack in my head every night before I fall asleep. I’m attempting to become proficient in Haitian Creole so I can communicate with a large number of parents who come in and need help with applications and legal forms. In this role, I get a lot of perspective on the school and its context as a whole. Every day, the office sees the convergence of so many factors that define life in Little Haiti, Miami, and especially life as an immigrant and in low-income, “at-risk” America. As I wondered about in one of my earlier posts, the poverty, isolation, and “trapped” feeling have already gotten to me more than once, and I am only living as a witness to it. It is sometimes crushing to see my students, co-workers, and new friends who live that reality every day. At points, my own small (but relatively huge) budget of $300 a month feels like another thing I have to apologize for. I’m sure many blogs following will involve me wrapping my head around the things I am seeing here this year.
All in all, after a bit of a rough start, each day I am settling in more and more. I’ve learned an extremely important lesson already; one that I’ve heard YAVs don’t usually learn until much later in the year. Sometimes you can’t be exactly what someone wants you to be, whether that is a Special Ed teacher or someone without cheese on their pants. But God does not bring us challenges to show us what we cannot do. We are challenged because God will further our perseverance and creativity. If we walk around in constant apology, focusing on what we lack and the ways in which we cannot please someone, we will miss all the ways in which we ARE equipped to serve. Of course, knowing this doesn’t take away the sting of admitting weakness, but it did make it easier to get back on my feet and be of use elsewhere in the school. And, best of all, the former pre-school teacher agreed to teach the Special Ed class, and my kids are now cared for and have a much more qualified teacher than I would have been.
Summing it all up (I knew this blog would be super long-winded, and I hope you’re still with me) after a long time of feeling like I had to say a lot of “sorry”s, I’m settling in much better to the “rhythms of chaos,” as I like to call them. When I was going through one of the roughest parts of this month, my mother shared a proverb with me: “Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.” My apologies were me believing I should be someone I was not meant to be at that moment. My peace is trusting others, myself, and God that I am exactly where I am meant to be right now.