Although the Learning Center is still technically under construction I couldn’t deny entrance to the dozen or so tiny black faces that watched me curiously through the windows. In they came with a cloud of dust, arms flailing, feet jumping in the air. “This is cool” one little guy said to me through a toothy grin, “and this is where the adults will come?” he asked. “No” I responded emphatically, “this is where you and your friends will come to play, learn, and have fun with me!” He pumped his fist in the air and threw his head back giggling and returned to the others. Not wanting to send the kids home covered in the same cement dust that covered the rest of the building, I ushered them into the only completed room thus far, the Computer lab. The kids were amazed at so many new and shiny machines. They swept their fingers across the keyboards feeling every groove and watched their reflections in the monitors. “These are for us too?” they asked, “yes” I said “this is a gift to all the people in the community”.
In the middle of the computer room sat an opened bin of children’s books that I had brought upriver with me; I watched them inspecting the colourful title pages, intrigued by the pictures but hesitant to touch. “Go ahead” I said encouragingly “they are books, they are for you too”. There is something so precious to me about watching a child pick up a book, cradle it in their arms, find a quiet spot on the floor and peel back the front cover. Eyes that dart back and forth soaking in all the colours and words that the pages hold. It is like entering into a new world where you never know what the turn of a page could bring, a dragon, a princess, or a boat sailing off to a faraway land in search of treasure. A book has the ability to captivate us, inspires us, provoke dreams and creativity.
The kids in Onzole are loud, they love to yell, they can’t help but always wiggle because they are full of pent up energy. It is a rare thing to ever be among the kids and not have them all trying to talk to you at once, braid your hair, climb onto your back or get you to kick a ball with them, but that afternoon, however, was an exception. It was the exception that calmed my fear of failure, my need to control and organize and plan, it showed me that the books will speak for themselves and that I just need to create the environment and be present. Splayed out before me on the cool tile floor of the computer lab were a dozen kids with books in hand, not a word spoken between them, just the occasional whisper of a word being sounded out or muffled giggles over a funny illustration. Quiet. Peaceful. They were reading.
The Learning Center is looking different with each passing day. The walls are all blocked now and the tile is currently being laid on the floor to be followed by the parging of the walls. I will be travelling back up river for two weeks end of July to paint the inside and outside of the building, design the library furniture and shelves that the Carpentry Workshop will make in August. I will also begin some preliminary computer, reading and craft workshops as well. I anticipate the official, grand opening of the Learning Center will be sometime late September. Exciting!