Peace Corps is all about the little wins. When something good happens, no matter how much of a difference it makes in the grand scheme of your service, one learns to appreciate and cherish it – who knows when such a little thing will make your day again?
Running water in the shower? Awesome. Luz all day long? Exceptional. I wasn’t the only one that showed up on time to a meeting? Unbelievable. My English students finally understand the difference between “throw out” and “throw up”? Groundbreaking. Just got a bag of mangoes delivered to my door? Delicious.
Then, every so often, a little win turns out to be a milestone moment.
I continue to meet with my two groups of Chicas Brillantes every Thursday, once in the morning and again in the afternoon due to the school’s current two-tanda system. Each week, seated on the cement floor of my living room, we discuss a different topic – inner vs. outer beauty, self-esteem, puberty, healthy communication, diet and nutrition, the media, etc. We put our knowledge to practice through both individual and group activities, dinámicas, games, and their favorite, coloring.
It is not the easiest task I’ve ever taken on, especially because a lot of times I feel as though I’m simply babysitting 20 adolescent girls rather than actually getting any information across, but our reuniones are always the most rewarding hours of my day. I think it’s pretty safe to say that they feel the same way. For many of these girls, our Thursday meetings are the few hours of their week when they can still be kids; where only positive, constructive, engaging, and amicable interactions with others are allowed; where they can giggle, doodle, and eat popcorn rather than looking after younger siblings, cleaning the house, or helping their moms get lunch ready; where they’re always given encouraging adult attention in a healthy environment.
Last week we entered into the topic of adolescence – a potentially scary one for both teacher and student – where we discussed how our bodies change, why they change, and how we can care for them while doing so.
To illustrate the importance of relaxing and ‘alone time’ (a hardly-practiced concept in collectivistic cultures), I had all the girls lie face-up on the floor, making sure that they were comfortable and not touching anyone else. Once all eyes were closed and there was no peeking, I explained to them that we were going to relax and do some visualizing.
Girls, we are no longer in Pescadería. We are at the top of a huge mountain. We hiked here together. It is a beautiful day – the sun isn’t too strong, and there is plenty of breeze and shade. We got to the top of this mountain together. We just finished a delicious, healthy lunch, and each of us is now resting under our own big, tall tree. Your belly is full, and aside from the gentle breeze, it is absolutely quiet. Under your big, tall tree you are safe. In this moment, under your big, tall tree, you are happy. You have no worries. From your head to your toes you are calm. You are safe, happy, and relaxed. And so you start breathing deeply. You breathe deeply and can only think about how relaxed you are in this moment, under your big, tall tree. The breeze allows you to breathe even deeper, and frees your mind of any bad thoughts. With each breath you become more relaxed. And with your eyes closed under your big, tall tree you are at peace, focused only on your breathing.
I let them lie there for quite sometime, admiring their tranquility and dedication to such a foreign activity. In that moment, despite the persistent and distracting noises that blasted from outside the walls of my living room, they were calm, quiet, and innocent. I savored that moment, their time under their big, tall trees.
After some more time, some more breathing, I reiterated how safe, happy, healthy, and beautiful they all were in that moment; how important remembering to breathe was. I told them that it was time to start gathering our things from the top of the mountain, and that soon we’d be hiking back down together. I explained to them that when they were ready, they could open their eyes and join me back in the living room.
But here’s the kicker – not one of them opened their eyes. Whether they had fallen asleep or were just relaxing, all of my girls chose to stay put under her big, tall tree. For me that moment was magical – to watch how positively they were responding to an idea that I had pretty much come up with on the spot; to witness how truly safe and comfortable they felt in my company; to understand that maybe I am making a small difference.
So that’s what I mean by little wins. Who knew that a leading a successful 15-minute relaxation activity with 20 adolescent girls would be such a memorable moment? I didn’t, but what I do know is that I will never forget that afternoon under my big, tall tree.