Gravel crunches against the backdrop of squeals of delight. Children run freely, laughing loudly. An open box, the “mobile library,” is being sorted through by eager hands and watchful eyes; books in English, French, and Creole are snagged quickly – Oh! The Places You Will Go and others of Dr. Seuss’ best picked up jovially – their bright colors and comical characters appealing to youthful eyes, no matter their location.
Amidst the free time, a pair of heedful, brown eyes watch on from the periphery of play. Wideline (wid-LEEN), 18, a cautious and reserved girl, has only recently begun to receive an appropriate education. Attempting to find her footing, to name her confidence, she often plays or reads off to the side on her own. Wideline, slow to engage with the other children, staff members, and mission team guests, is often “on the fringe” of the action
Across the gravel yard, Janice Hickman, a Back2Back staff member, watches Wideline observing. She quickly walks over to the mobile library, searching for one title in particular, and moves towards the young girl who is hesitant to engage.
“I can speak broken Creole and I know how to read all of Brown Bear, Brown Bear in Creole so I sat down next to her and began to read,” Janice explains.
Turning the pages of the book, Janice reads in Creole first, and then in English, aloud to Wideline. As she closes the book, Wideline’s slender hand holds up Where the Wild Things Are and she asks a question with her eyes. Janice does her best to read about the wild rumpus in the language Wideline speaks, but it isn’t an easy task.
Moments later, Wideline stands facing a wall, pressing a white writing utensil into concrete – white particles floating in the heat-laced air she and Janice take turns drawing pictures.
Wideline clears off a cooler top and beckons Janice over. There, they sit together, pouring over new books as Wideline pronounces new, English words boldly.
Finishing one book, Wideline turns to get another book, gaining confidence, speaking louder than the time before and slowly practicing words aloud to Janice.“
As the day comes to a close and the children are told to clean up, Wideline continues to read and sit with Janice – turning the pages and soaking in a new language. Finally, they did put the books away, but not before Wideline raised her brown eyes to meet Janice’s and asked, “Can we finish reading tomorrow?”
“This time with Wideline is always incredibly sweet,” says Janice. “Connecting with her is a gift.”
“When she is interested, when she is talking with me, I have the privilege of seeing the young woman Wideline is made to be. I am learning she is sweet, she is patient, she is considerate. At one point she asks if I am tired, but we continue; she is not, she desires to continue to sit with me and read.”
A reserved, hesitant girl was met with patience, compassion, and a little individual time and had the opportunity, herself, to become the teacher. It is through Janice providing care for Wideline’s today and hope for her tomorrow that allows them both to see they each have something worth offering to the other.