I just finished up one of those oft sought after projects during Peace Corps service… the type that provides that fuzzy feeling deep in the cockles of one’s heart. I suppose working with kids will do that to you.
In tandem with another volunteer from Poland, we worked with some wonderful children from a local orphanage to practice and then perform a play/musical in a national children’s theater festival. It was a foolishly ambitious plan (and not mine). The play, ‘Oh my Darlin’ Clementine’ was acted out and sung all in English. This presented a challenge as none of the children spoke English (save for our narrator, thank goodness). But the largest problem was the rampant learning disabilities and ADD present in nearly every child. Readers can imagine how difficult it was to get these 6-13 year olds to memorize their lines in an unfamiliar language. But the kids worked really hard and in the end came through. We certainly didn’t win any prizes but at the very least the kids got a great experience.
(The group after rehearsals)
Many of these children had never been to the capital city before, performed in a theatre festival, or been in a play for that matter. The real success of the project was providing these kids with a sense of accomplishment and some exposure to the larger world (even if that exposure was merely a trip to the capital city, a 2 hour drive away).
Their excitement was evident on the bus ride down. I sat down in the front seat to guard against any wayward children falling out the only exit point of the vehicle. Before we had even left the orphanage, one of the young boys came running up to me and asked if he could sit on my lap for the ride to the capital. I assented; glad that I’d be able to keep an eye on this particular boy who is perhaps the most overly active and ADD stricken young person since Robin Williams was an adolescent. In the course of our conversation I asked him why he wanted so badly to sit by me (I was probably just subconsciously fishing for a compliment). He looked up at me with a look of exhilaration, leaned in and whispered in my ear that he wanted to be the first one to arrive in the capital city. I was confused, until he explained (quite succinctly) that if he was at the front of the bus when we pulled into the city limits he would be the first one there. It was one of the cutest things I’ve ever experienced. It was obvious he had been hatching this scheme for some time. I was proud of him.
As we entered the city, it was awesome to watch him stare out the window in wonder at all the large buildings, streets congested with traffic and people milling about. The scale of the Capital city, Yerevan is not comparable to anything else in the country and this kid was impressed and intrigued. His eyes were like saucers, and he kept leaning over and would begin to ask me a question only to become distracted by something else more interesting to look at outside of the bus. For a kid with this degree of ADD, it was joyous overload. I had thoughts of taking my keys out of my pocket and jangling them behind his head as my own little self-indulgent behavioral test, but then thought better of it, fearing that his head might explode.
(our narrator during the final performance. Unfortunately we don't have any good pictures of the play itself)
The play went off without a hitch (we even had the Polish Ambassador in attendance, which was a big deal). But more than that, the kids had an awesome eye-opening experience and seemed to feel a real sense of accomplishment. It was a cool thing to witness. I’ve said it before, but this Peace Corps gig ain’t all that bad.