privileged kids

Got a good letter from Heather (in Nigeria) this morning...

Tuesday... I spent a whole lot of time just hanging around with the women as they sewed (or just sat around)—which is something I planned to do; I know I really need to learn to feel more comfortable with them if I'm going to teach them and be generally there for them instead of the kids. And I did feel more comfortable. It also gave me some time to observe.

I've been reading a book written for use by Christian development professionals, Walking With the Poor. I'm not very far into it but I have a good general idea of the message from reading ahead! This book emphasizes the need for a Christian worldview on the part of the development promoter—situating the whole situation in the overall story of God's relationship with human beings (rather than in, say, the modernist story of how poverty can be relieved by technology.) Then things like technology (or literacy!) fall into their proper place and do not become "gods".

Another thing it talked about is helping the poor to situate themselves within the story of God—to see their value in God's eyes as His beloved creation and (always potentially) His children. Because often the poor have swallowed lies that the powerful tell them, that they are nothing, unimportant, uneducated, and therefore have nothing meaningful to do with their lives but obey whoever is above them. This is the part of the book that I really connected with—I can see that at Bezer Home.

I started to notice one thing: a difference in the way children are treated. Oh, it may be an illusion, I haven't been here long, but it seems to me that even the women who are there for the classes make a difference between two kinds of children. Some they treat the way I've seen most kids be treated here—like they should be seen and not heard, if not in a verbal sense, at least in an emotional sense. Like they should do what they're told and not argue or they will get a smack. I'm not saying there's no parental affection but it's not real obvious. It's like they're valued but there's a sense that making them too aware of that would be spoiling them. The only ones I've seen real affectionate attention being given to are babies.

But a few kids are treated differently. Mary Beth and Bayo's kids, when they show up. I really wondered about that when I noticed, and whether it was because they were half-white. Then I saw the children of Auntie Sarah, the highest person in the Bezer Home hierarchy besides Mary Beth—she's Nigerian and is a sort of pastor/administrator for the vocational training—and I noticed that her daughter, whom she brings to work, was being treated the same way. The way you're used to seeing kids treated—you know, grown-ups smiling at them, playing with them, laughing affectionately at them.

I've also seen how these... should I say "privileged kids"?... act differently from the others. Act more like kids... more difficult but also more playful, with that childlikeness that makes an adult respond.

And I thought, wow, these women feel like they're worth less than capable, educated, financially stable, HIV-negative people—and they feel like their own children are worth less too.

Now please keep in mind that all this is pure speculation. I have no idea if I was observing accurately.

But as I was thinking these things, Faith Dauda came along. A four-year-old (or so) who came to Hope School, and who that day was probably there with her mom who had come to sew. (I'm not so great at connecting kids with moms yet...) And I smiled at her, and asked if she remembered me, and somehow I just got drawn into having a little time with her. A fun time, where I got her to write what she knew of the alphabet for me, and corrected her mistakes, and praised her, and it was one of those moments you can have with kids where they're learning just because they feel like it and enjoy the attention. (Which is, by the way, what I'm hoping for when I teach these moms how to teach their kids... pray?) The best kind of learning, really, and something I truly enjoy. When she got tired of the alphabet she announced she would draw a motorcar, and she did (kind of) and then she got me to start drawing... it was great, anyway.

And I thought, I want to go on doing this. I thanked God that he had sent me a kid who still behaved like a kid and wasn't scared of me, and given me a chance to treat her like a kid. A "privileged kid." Even if her mom is poor with HIV, for Pete's sake.

And you know, I've been wishing I could still be with the kids, and I've been worried that teaching literacy would mean sitting at Bezer with nothing to do a lot (because I know these women don't usually show up on the dot to appointments!) and now I'm not worried about either of those things. Because anytime I'm sitting there with nothing to do is a perfect time to go find a kid and... treat her like a kid. With learning or fun or hopefully both.

So thank God for Faith Dauda. And will you pray that God shows me how to show the adult women, also, their value in the eyes of God?