Summer Volunteer Program 2019: The kids have an unbounded imagination that continues to light up different parts of this world that I fail to see

Day 13: Friday, 2 August, 2019

Mateo Encarnacion, United States

Dazing off, tired and confused as usual, I get trapped swimming in my thoughts, questioning whether or not my lessons really did anything for the children. Not going to lie, my lessons are very much flawed: sometimes my meek attitude lacks the authority needed to control, sometimes the language barrier prevents me from steering it in the right direction, sometimes the class just isn’t interested in what I am saying, and sometimes I simply just don’t know what’s going on…

After lunch, I normally have peace-building activities with the kids; I’m not completely sure what that entails, as for me it’s a messy cluster of crafts, games, and discussions. However today’s third period was different. The class out of my hands, the kids were lined up to go outside for a special tree planting activity (which they thoroughly enjoyed). I don’t want to come off as lazy, or indifferent, but honestly, I was content with this – I had one less lesson to plan, worry about, and incessantly question its meaningfulness for the kids. Yet, elbows on the desk, eyes glued downwards to the floor, I still felt strangely subdued. I didn’t even notice my behavior until Mahmood, an eleven year old boy, came up to me and asked, “Are you sad?”

I’m not sure if sad is the right word, but I do often question if my efforts as a volunteer are enough, or even worthwhile. One thing I praise Jusoor for is their awareness of what makes a good volunteer, and not. During our orientation program, we spent a great amount of time discussing many of the negative consequences volunteers can have on people they are trying to help, albeit even for a short time.

Yes, sometimes I wish that some of my lessons could have been better organized and managed, but I forget that there are many things out of my control, and that grasping for control is maybe not always the best option. Many of the best lessons that we’ve had together are because of where the kids take it using their imagination, not me. The kids in the class have an unbounded imagination that continues to light up different parts of this world that I fail to see.

That specific day, I had a lesson planned on space for the kids: we were to make a scale model of the planets, by cutting out their shapes and hanging them on a long barbecue skewer. Unsurprisingly, with some kids ignoring the proportions I tried to get them to measure, it didn’t fully go as planned. At first I thought that this might be another disaster. However, on second thought, I realized that maybe it was a bit selfish of me to think like that, as the kids took the activity into their own imaginations in a way that was meaningful to them. Loayi really enjoyed coloring the different circles, regardless if they matched the actual colors of the planets; Hasan used his model of his two planets as a car, pretending to drive as he steered the skewer and stomped on the planets for the gas and break; and Safa completed the activity alongside others to perfection. I think sometimes as an older kid, I forget the power of imagination and its ability to adapt an idea in a way that is creative and fun to you.

For sure, having a plan that works out and a sense of direction is always comforting to have, and maybe always better. Yet, I also have learned to appreciate times like these (and hopefully I think the kids too), when certainty is not as important as where they take it themselves, leading it into directions that remain personal and relevant to their word. I try to incorporate lessons from what I know and what I think would be useful for the children, but it’s really them who take it further, with more color and meaning than I could ever imagine.

Mateo is volunteering at Jusoor’s educational centers in Lebanon during July and August 2019 as part of the Summer Volunteer Program. You can read more posts by our volunteers here.

Posted on August 6, 2019 in Refugee Education, Summer Program 2019, Volunteers

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