As a child, whenever I received something new, I did my best to make sure that it stayed new for as long as possible. My dolls were always put away, their hair tidied and brushed. My notebook would contain meticulously written notes because mistakes were unacceptable on such pristine paper. However, my prized possession was always a new set of colored pens or pencils. These colors had the ability to perfect whatever it was I was drawing. The Lemon Yellow would illuminate the rays of the wobbly sun drawn in the corner of my paper. The Forest Green would reveal the blades of grass hastily scribbled in that horizontal rectangle on the bottom of the page. The Sunset Red gave me just the right shade to draw my uneven flower petals. To me, those colors were magic – my magic. To let someone else have access to my little bit of pixie dust was unfathomable; you were not even going to get a sprinkle. Classmates would ask to borrow the magical wands in an attempt to cast their own spells, and the answer was always a curt, “No.” If I conceded for one reason or other, it was always begrudgingly, going up to them minutes later asking for the color back.
This is why, during an afternoon class in my Jarahiya classroom, I fell wide-eyed and silent when I saw 12-year-old Ahmed happily volunteer his own set of colors to the rest of his classmates because the school didn’t have enough for every student.
The class started off the way it always did: me, attempting to settle down the children to explain the art lesson for the day. We were going to be coloring a picture of butterflies and drawing one of the animals we had learned about in our previous English lesson. I passed out the papers and grabbed the bucket of colored pencils and gave each child one color. Because resources are limited, my rule states that each child receives one color, and if the child want a different color, they have to politely ask their fellow classmates if they can switch colors. Of course, this is the ideal scenario. I generally find a successful day is one where I get over three quarters of the colored pencils back and the lesson goes by without me having to break up an argument.
That particular day, the children were antsy and asking for more than one color at the same time. I was trying to explain to them that this would not be possible because we don’t have enough pencils for everyone let alone two pencils per student. This is when Ahmed, the beautiful 12-year-old boy with quite possibly the brightest smile I have ever seen, took out a clear plastic bag filled with 20-something colored pencils and said, “Miss! I have colors. They can borrow them from me.”
I was in utter disbelief. As Ahmed’s classmates crowded around him, I tried to digest what had just happened. How is it possible that a boy who has had everything taken away from him – his home, his friends, his country – be so giving? How is it possible that he so cheerily volunteered one of the few possessions he has left knowing that he might not get them back? I knew that Ahmed worked two jobs when he wasn’t in school: helping his mother make cheese in a factory and picking potatoes in the field. My young student was also a child laborer, and he did not care about how clean his pencils were or whether his classmates were going to press too hard on the pencils’ tips. He just gave because he saw that there was need.
I have never felt more ashamed of my younger self than I did when Ahmed gave his own piece of magic away. I felt infinitesimal and humbled by a child refugee who will most likely never have the opportunity and privilege I was given and will continue to receive.
Four and a half years after conflict and violence have all but destroyed my country, it is individuals like Ahmed that give me hope. Despite the war and poverty, the loss and displacement, the struggle and strife, there will always be a smiling boy who will be willing to give and to share what little he has. That is what is truly magical.
Nour volunteered at Jusoor’s educational centers in Lebanon during July and August as part of the summer volunteer program.