Notes from the Field: A Book in the Hands of a Child
Zeritu and the interns (Nikita, Mercy and Nur) carried the bags into the preschool classroom just before the children left at noon today. Each bag contained a blanket and a book donated by St. Patrick’s Church in Victor, New York. Thirty five bags given to thirty five children and the response was immediate. They beamed; their smiles stretching from ear to ear. They hugged the bags and then reached past the blanket to pull out the book. Chatter filled the room as they opened the books and began to turn the pages. Little fingers pointed to pictures. They’d look at their own book and then at their neighbors’. Some clutched the book close to their chest. “Is this really mine, my very own?” they seemed to say. Others appeared mesmerized by the pictures as they searched for things they recognized and could name.
I couldn’t stop taking pictures. I wanted to capture their enthusiasm, their excitement, their utter delight. It didn’t matter that the books were written in a language they could not read. It was theirs. They could “read” it as many times as they wanted, study each picture, and imagine the story. They could laugh and question, dream and study all through the pages of this prized possession. As I walked across the room one of the six year old boys touched my arm. “Amaseganalo! Thank you!” he said. Within minutes there were dozens of hugs, kisses and thank yous as the children carried their treasures out of the classroom and across the compound. “See you Monday,” we called as they walked through the gate and onto the crowded streets.
Entoto is the most densely populated and one of the poorest areas of Addis Ababa. Many of the children’s parents are not literate in Amharic much less English. The financial demands on the family’s meager income leave nothing for luxuries like books. So the gifts today were indeed special. We hope this is just the beginning. How wonderful it would be to have a library for the preschool so the children can handle books often, learn about the world around them and experience the joy of reading every day.
I am always changed after being in Ethiopia. Sometimes it’s in little ways – an acquired taste for injera, an appreciation for clean water or a greater willingness to move at a slower pace. Other times the changes are deeper and more substantive – humility, gratitude and an ever increasing awareness of how much the women and children have taught me about life, love, relationships and the things that are truly important. As today draws to a close I can’t help but say “Amaseganalo” to the people who gave the books and blankets and to the children for allowing me to share their joy.