HEY! Those are OUR kids you're talking about!
I have spent many hours sitting through parent-teacher interviews. In the past, however, I've always been the teacher. Now as a dorm parent to 73 marvellous yet mischievous girls, parent-teacher interviews take on a whole new meaning. Marcia was the first to run home after school to hand me her parent-teacher interview slip. Crumpled in her sweaty palms, she handed me the slip. This is going to be interesting I whispered silently to myself.
Parent-teacher interviews were scheduled for 8am on Saturday mornings. I woke up and threw on my nicest Mozambican dress trying desperately to blend into a culture and nation where I will always stick out as an outsider. Much to my surprise, parent-teacher interviews were not one-on-one with the teacher and parent. Instead the classroom was full of parents all coming to meet at the same time.
We discussed everything from uniforms, school materials to classroom behaviour. I was somewhat shocked when someone laughed by naming a few of my children being the worst behaved. But instead of being embarrassed or shying away from confrontation, I spoke up and yelled, "Hey, those are my kids you're talking about!" I will not merely stand by when our kids are being poked fun of. Of course I'm not so naïve as to think that our children act like little angels all of the time. Most of them come from extremely rough backgrounds where they were never given the chance to survive let alone thrive. But I will defend them like no other. In a world where it seems like no one has ever been on "their side", we're here to stand by them through thick and thin.
I was fortunate to grow up in a family where my parents always stood by my side. And when I was at fault or in the wrong, they helped pick me up and dust my knees off. Sure, I may never be able to offer our 73 children the same intimacy and protection that my small family of three children growing up were so fortunate to receive, but I can offer something. I can offer them a safe and loving place to call home and the knowledge that in this big world, there will always be at least one person to stand up and take their side and run to their defence.
At our centre, we accept children from the most traumatized, neglectful and horrific situations. We have thirteen year olds the height of nine year olds and many big bellies left from years of malnutrition. For many of our girls, malnutrition and neglect has stunted their growth and development. For many, their academic potential has been robbed by years of empty tummies and hunger-aches that harmed the proper development of their brain. Although we can't undo the past, we can protect their future and their dignity. We can stand beside them and whisper, "I believe in you and you can do it!" And so we will continue, to whisper day after day these simple truth. And someday, when our 73 beautiful children stand before you as the powerful and incredible individuals they were born to be, we will once again yell, "Hey, those are our kids you're talking about!"