Before school break began, I started a teen club with about 20 kids. Initially I knew it would be ok, but only one or two kids actually spoke, the others just stared at me, and I wondered how long it would take to break the ice for things to evolve. Come on kids, it's been 2 weeks already, what's up! Nothing! But to my delight, school is back, and after the first few days, some kids come up to me asking about Teen Club. Ok, next Tuesday, 3pm, meet me in the computer lab, spread the word. Lo and behold, all of them show, except those who have been transferred, so we decide to invite some new students in. With my counterpart, Seo, at my side, we start planning our schedule of things we want to accomplish in the next 6 months—planting a garden, doing a talent show, a spelling bee, and of course, they want to learn Tai Chi. Not that I had any influence over that one!
Seo sees that things are under control, so she excuses herself, leaving me to continue on with 17 teenagers. Sure, no problem, I'm a seasoned Psychologist, I can handle anything---but the minute she left, things dramatically changed. I felt like I was in the scene of the Sound of Music, ok I'm dating myself, but does anyone remember the scene in the beginning of the movie when Julie Andrews is meeting the kids, then after telling her all the rules, the Captain leaves, and all the children come right up to her face, saying things, and ultimately leaving a frog in her pocket. Well, this is the same exact scene here when Seo leaves---17 darling teens are immediately in my face, they couldn't get close enough, and I hear voices, lots of voices.......”Do you know my name...I saw you on a Kombie...I saw you in Kanye...I saw you taking photos at the clinic...Why aren't you taking photos of me...I saw you talking to someone...I saw you walking....Why were you in Kanye...Do you remember I came to your house...did you like the choirs, I saw you there...what's your real name?” It went on and on and on, and my ears and my eyes are trying to follow who's asking what, but I can't breath because it's stifling hot, and I'm smothered by teens, smothered by their voices, smothered by their sweet curiosity, and smothered with the thought that if they put a snake in my pocket I'm going to faint! Hey kids, why didn't you say hi if you saw me? Blank! Yet once I get them to sit down and after I check my pockets, they wanted answers to each and every question. So with huge glued eyes, all questions are answered, and now, because of the explanation about the picture taking, they want to do a project for my correspondence class in NY! They really are great kids! Oh, they were so thrilled with my real name, that they demanded that I write it on each and everyone of their hands. This is too much!
With such command, I try ending the group, but one person asks nicely if she can touch my hair. American hair is a big deal here! Naively, I thought I heard ONE girl ask, and in a split second, 17 kids are in my hair, and then in a matter of minutes, I come out looking like one of the Little Rascals, with braids sticking up and flying all over the place. They are thrilled with their work of art! Finally, we call it quits for the day---they leave happy, but one girl stays behind. When all are safely gone, the girl gives me the sweetest look, though her eyes tell a story---and she simply says-- “I'm an orphan.” I put my arm around her shoulders, and the girl, and me and my hair walk out together. No words were needed---she knew I understood there was pain, and if needed, I would be there for her to talk to.
As life here evolves, there's going to be fun times, story times, and sad realistic times to come to terms with. The fun and games, the projects, won't take away some of these kids pain, but maybe for just a few moments, some of them can feel respected and empowered! And from there, who knows---but for the time being, that's all I can hope for!