Thursday, October 13, 2011

adventures in volunteering

I was volunteering recently with eight year old girls for Girl's Inc. Just an hour, once a week for six weeks. They run cycles four times a year.  This was week five, our second to last class together. The girls were sitting in small clusters around round tables drawing pictures of themselves doing something amazing and eating their lunches. I walked around, asking the girls what they were drawing and encouraging them to finish eating, they are always very animated and want to tell me a million stories. I've never felt so popular.
The girls are from a variety of different home lives and backgrounds. Some are very poor. Even in third grade they are starting to realize who are the 'haves' and who are the 'have nots.' They don't do it meanly, it's almost like some invisible force is pulling them into groups. It's heartbreaking sometimes, but this group is always polite and kind and encouraging to one another. They were willing to share and eager to answer questions and so candid with their responses that many times I had to smile to hold back a laugh. No one feels afraid to speak up for fear they will be ridiculed, which I admire so much in them and wonder how long they have like this.
As I was circulating around and finding out how every one's week was going, one girl motioned me over excitedly. She always has a broad smile, unbrushed hair, and clothes that don't quite match. She's confident and social to everyone and undoubtedly, a 'have not.'
"My mom had her baby!" She exclaimed with happy excitement. 
"OH MY, that's wonderful" I gushed back,  "A little brother or a little sister!"
"A little sister,' she said suddenly sounding a little shy.
"Well what did she name her?" I encouraged.
And then she hesitated and looked back down at the picture she was drawing of herself kicking a game-winning goal during a soccer game. She'd mentioned to me in an earlier class that she was very athletic.
"We didn't get to name her, because, the family that, that, that adopted her will name her." She said carefully. She looked heartbroken, but not in tears.
I was so taken aback with her willingness to share and her bravery and honesty at the situation that I didn't know what to say. Another girl at the table, having overheard as kids are wont to do, piped up quickly with a "Why? Why don't you get to keep your sister?" Not meanly, but just with genuine interest at what surely seemed like a strange situation to her.
"Well," hesitated the first girl, "That couple couldn't have a" That's when she trailed off and sat staring at her toes.
"How wonderful of Morgan's mother to do such a kind thing for that family." Was all I could think to say. Because what can you say? She's eight. She doesn't get to have a baby sister and it just isn't fair.
Eight year olds know much more than most people give them credit for and she knew more than she'd been told in words. She knew that her Mom couldn't keep that new little sister and seeing it was heartbreaking.
Maybe she'll be fine and she'll cope and grow and go on to win hundreds of soccer games. But sometimes I catch myself wondering what would have been the right thing to say. How could I have helped her carry the load? What if she doesn't have anyone else to talk to?
Working with those girls has been a wonderful and eye-opening experience. And it's given me new ideas to consider as I try to figure out my career path. If you have even an hour a week I'd highly recommend volunteering your time to give a girl someone to talk to.

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