I stand in a doorway of a modest kindergarten classroom watching 17 children play. There is a charm to their games. Their laughter is like music, innocent and pure. The peace of watching passes after five seconds, when I’m spotted by one of the children. Before long, I find myself smiling at 10 energetic Brazilian children running at me, shouting, “Gracie!” As I kneel down, I am showered with kisses and embraced with hugs. This is my Brazilian welcome.
After my first day of high school, my second day in Brazil, my principal, who is also a Rotarian, asked me if I wanted to volunteer in a kindergarten classroom. My answer; “Yes!” I agreed to volunteer there two afternoons a week. Later that day, I met a kindergarten teacher, Saionara. Saionara spoke some English so she helped me get to know the kids and answer their questions. With each passing day, I learned a little more Portuguese and the more time I spent with “my children,” as I came to call them, the better I could understand them and the more I came to love them.
I’m just three months into my exchange and already I could write pages about the 17 children I’ve spent my afternoons with. I’ve learned their drawing styles, who the best readers are, who loves to dance, who loves to make trouble, who likes to talk the most and who always smiles. I’ve learned how the education of these young children will largely contributes to their later morals and values. Their education today will make them the Brazilians of the future.
Their teacher amazes me. Sionara poses as a loving mother without abandoning her control over the classroom. Her classroom reflects many aspects of Brazilian culture. For example, kissing on the cheek is the customary greeting in Brazil, and one day the class participated in an activity to teach them that. Each child received a card with red lips on it. After the teacher’s signal, they gave the cards to their friends. Whoever got the card also received a loving kiss on the cheek. Since most of the girls had just finished playing with make-up, by the end of the activity some of the boys had faces covered with lipstick smooches and grins from ear-to-ear.
I am not saying that these Brazilian children are very different from the children I knew in the U.S. In fact, they are startlingly similar. They play the same games: House, cars and dress-up. They face the same problems: Sharing, pushing and calling each other names. They have the same demands: “Push me on the swings,” “help me” and “tie my shoes.” But most importantly, they require the same love.
In the time that I have spent with them, I have taught them many tings: To draw stars, to dance ballet, to sing a song, to write the letters of the alphabet and to count in English. However, these 6-year-olds have taught me something far more important: To love them unconditionally. The soul and spirit that these children share is entirely Brazilian, like nothing I have ever seen before. These children are more than just a classroom, they are a family. And this family of amazing individuals has adopted me. I couldn’t be happier.
Grace Livermore is a Cooperstown Rotary exchange student.