Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Full Circle

I'm getting enthusiastic emails from teenagers I don't even know, and it's for one reason only: they want to help.

While packaging meals on the assembly line with teenagers from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, I was moved by their desire to learn English. I loved these kids, and with so little time, I pondered how I could continue to help them with language skills. I had recently learned about an international calling/texting app called whatsapp. Most teens have phones and most have whatsapp.

I remembered when I had a pen pal. It was elementary school, and I didn't write for years and develop a relationship, but somehow I was endeared to the idea of connecting to a stranger. I proposed the idea of an e-pal to three youth refugees in the camp, and they seemed excited. Even with their limited English skills.

I sent out a tweet to my school, and three interested students replied. Two students did their best. One student, when her e-pal didn't respond, translated her message into Arabic. But communications fizzled like a wet firework. I'd done everything wrong on the first try: pairing a young man with a young lady, ignoring the social morays of Middle Eastern society; expecting it to work when refugees didn't have enough English on their tongues to carry  a conversation; expecting language learners to act without structured English support.

I tried again. This time Genny from the No Border School in Athens wanted to help. The school had an infrastructure, had students who may have already been assigned to an English speaking country, or had refugees far enough along in the process to see hope and be motivated to learn a language. The committees at the school, the teachers, the administrators got together and hammered out strict ethical guidelines. Because refugees are preyed upon and vulnerable, they needed to be protected.

The boulder started rolling down the road and it picked up a few people along the way.

Adults wanted to join in too. Our demographic had enlarged, so I recruited and mentioned to friends and to friends' children. An exchange student fresh home from her global experience in Germany jumped on the boulder and brought her friends along too. That's when the emails started coming in from Topeka Kansas and Boulder Colorado. From sixteen year olds who wanted to help, so much that I've run out of refugee, English-language-learners in Athens.

It's more than a chance to help someone improve their English. It's a chance to connect with a person on the other side of the globe with a different life, with different stories to tell. It's a link in the great wheel of mankind, and as all volunteers know, when we help others, it shrinks the planet and enlarges the heart.

Big hearts hold more love. More love = more happiness. More happiness=more health. More health=more opportunity. More opportunity=more love. More love=more heart. Full circle.

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