Wednesday, February 2, 2011

being present

People often ask me, teachers, especially, what exactly it is that I do after the bell rings at 3:25 every day. It’s kind of a hard question to answer, because to some, it may sound like ‘nothing. ‘ But part of the YAV year, you see, is the concept of ‘ministry of presence,’ meaning that while I may not always have a specific task, my overarching, always-present task is simply to be with people; to be part of the community.

So this ‘ministry of presence’ thing takes many forms. It’s when I accompany Jinta to the doctor; when I sing songs with Reshmi while washing clothes; when I play hide and seek with the girls on the playground. It’s when Gracy Kochamma shows me decades-old photos of her life and loved ones; when the TTC students and I talk about our ideal husbands (trust me, THEY brought this topic up, not me); when Veena, a 7th grader, Praseela, a 5th grader—neither of whom speak English—and I walk around aimlessly, hand in hand, as happy as can be. 

Of course, the unique, hoped-for outcome specific to my placement is that through this ‘ministry of presence,’ all of the children’s English skills will improve. Which they have. There are usually 1 or 2 of the boarding students in any given class that I teach. They are often the first to understand my instructions, and regularly clarify for the other children.

During times when I wonder, “am I really doing any good?” it’s moments like those that remind me why I’m here. If I can break Aleena’s habit of saying ‘sawn’ instead of ‘seen,’ then you know what? That’s enough.

The other day, Anu asked me, in Malayalam, to push her on the swing. I was experiencing a tired moment, having already done quite a bit of pushing, and came so close to telling her to ask one of the other children. But then, an idea. I told her I would push her…if she asked in English. So, with a little coaxing and help from yours truly, she managed to say, “will you push me on the swing?”

With the smile of a proud parent, and the energy I had been lacking the instant before: “Of course, Anu. I would love to.”

“We cannot do great things on this Earth, only small things with great love.” –Mother Teresa


  1. Madison: Been reading your blog all year. Good stuff. As a former traveler, I know it's good to have reader feedback. So, you know... here is feedback.

    Don't tell anybody, but your blog is definitely the best YAV blog I read... mostly because you update it.