Heart Connections Through Letters

Today we get to place the letters we’ve brought in the children’s hands from their friends in the U.S. I can almost feel the vibration of their anticipation as I eat my breakfast. I reflect back on all the students in the US. at CT Walker Magnet School, Oglethorpe Charter School and St. Andrew’s School, wondering if Africa is entering any of their dreams this morning.

The Prince of Peace students’ faces are aglow as they watch their friends from the U.S. on video for the first time on my MacBook. Their focus is unbreakable as they crowd around my lap and recognize the letters they wrote in the hands of their new friends. As I hand out the return letter, one of the first girls to receive hers, Yesutor, embodies the spirit of her classmates as she holds her letter from Madeline to her heart and dances back and forth. Her friends instantly gather around her, peering over her shoulders to see and hear of her letter. After the students read through their letters at their desks, we circle on the cool, grey, dusty concrete floor of their classroom as the noise from recess echoes loudly off the walls. I strain to keep my concentration thru the noise and marvel at their steadfastness as they one-by -one read their letters to each other, listening intensely and struggling at the pronunciation of the American children’s names.

 We’ve brought friendship bracelets from CT Walker Magnet School and they proudly tie them on, helping each other. They are excited to hear the story these students from the U.S. have started with the challenge for them to finish it: a true collaboration! We leave them as they ponder what will happen next to the characters in the story who have gone to the pool with smoothies and spoiled them from the splashing water from the diving board. I’m not sure if their knitted brows are from their creative minds deep in concentration or my belabored definition and explanation of a diving board, and cannon-balls, new vocabulary words for them.  As we head out across the schoolyard, emissaries from other classes come running in pairs asking, “Please Madame, visit P1,” or “P4 invites you to our classroom please Madame”. We leave hoping to connect with more of them in the future.

 RC Mixed Primary P5 classroom roars as we hold up the pictures of Oglethorpe Charter School in Savannah, GA, especially the library and lunch room. I ask, “Is it the books?” as they answer in chorus, “yes, Madame”. Mr. Butler, the U.S. 7th grade teacher also gets a loud and long applause after reading his letter aloud to the class. They all diligently get to work on the return letters even after we determine not all the children will receive letters due to the sheer volume in the classroom here (at least 80 students!) They will once again have to share what we have brought. We leave them to their task and schedule our return next week to work with the P6 classes and collect P5’s letters.

 Back at EP, Ann facilitates her first discussion for the after-school students highlighting the role of communication and introduces e-mail; which few of the students know. She asks to hear what news most excited them from their letters from St. Andrew’s students and a hand shoots in the air. “My friend has a tiger in her house!” The classroom gasps in surprise. Ann reads part of the letter aloud and helps the class interpret that Tiger is the name of a pet cat! A sigh of relief as everyone laughs and continues to share, “My friend asked me if my brothers and sisters are nice to me, my friend wants to visit Africa, my friend loves football too!” Ann and I discuss our day and reflect, from our simple commonalities to our complex relationships, in our experience as humans we are all brothers and sisters, friends and football lovers and we all desire to travel to new destinations to connect with others whether across the oceans or down the street.