We have been working in this community over twenty months now. In this time many children have come and gone. We also have children that have been with us since the beginning. It has been difficult when parents have decided that they will not send their children to Food for Thought anymore. It is the reality of life that you can’t please everyone. It is a pill that is hard to swallow but one that we are getting used to. We are learning not to take it personally and concentrate our efforts towards those children that are still with us.
There is one little girl (I’ll call he Mary) who has been with us almost since we opened the doors. She comes from a family of nine brothers and sisters of the same mother, but two different fathers. Mary currently lives with one of her sisters, two of her brothers, her father and her grandmother. Every now and then she stays in the house of her mother. We know that the father and the grandmother are violent towards all of the children.
When Mary first came to us she found it impossible to share. Any coloured pencil or musical instrument was hers and hers alone. She was very shy, had low self-esteem, and would often get very upset if she couldn’t complete a certain task. She demanded a lot of attention and found it very difficult in group situations. We recently began practising for a show that we are going to present in October. It is Little Red Riding Hood. We decided that we wanted Mary to be Little Red Riding Hood in part of the show. Our idea was for her to do a little dance at the end of the first scene as she skipped through the woods.
On Friday during a rehearsal we proposed to Mary that she have a little crack at an improvised dance in front of the staff and the other children. She produced a shy little smile like when you tell a little girl that she looks pretty. Without instruction, the other children started to motivate her and even began to chant her name. Valeria explained to her that she could face us, the other children, or wherever she felt comfortable facing, and to take her time and do what ever she felt comfortable doing.
I began to play the song that we had chosen on the glockenspiel. Mary stood in the middle of the room facing us. She stood their motionless while only the sound of the glockenspiel filled the room. It felt like an eternity. Suddenly she began to move. She began to dance like any innocent, seven year old girl would dance. She entered her own little world and danced like nobody was watching. Except everyone was watching…a few, including me, had tears in their eyes.
That one moment, that forty-five seconds, made the last 3 years worth it. If the world had ended in that moment, it wouldn’t have mattered! That one moment spoke a thousand words to me. It told me that these children are confident in encouraging each other, and actually willing each other to succeed. It told me that in 18 months this little girl has experienced huge positive changes in her life. It told me that Food for Thought is a space of free expression. It told me that our project is working.
Maybe it is the natural development of a young girl of her age to see huge changes like that. Maybe she had it in her all along but she never demonstrated it. I like to think that any child has potential, but all need the right environment or conditions to flourish. Just like a seed. In the right environment that seed will grow, and if the conditions support it, it will eventually show it’s flowers.