Like anyone whose work has shifted from the field toward administration, some days my job seems pretty abstract. The more you look at data to try to understand the bigger picture, the easier it is to lose sight of the people the data is based on. Tuesday morning I got to reconnect, in a small way, with the world statistics describe.
As I passed by the primary school here at the Antigua site, I noticed a boy outside the classroom, hanging on the window frame, looking in. He wasn’t doing anything wrong exactly, but neither was he helping the teacher run her classroom. So I called out to him.
“What’s going on?” I asked, making an effort to sound friendly rather than accusatory. When he turned, I recognized him. It was Oliver, who I’ve known for a couple of years.
He mumbled something a bit sheepishly, his demeanor betraying that he knew he shouldn’t be where he was. I wanted to get him away from from the school without scolding him, so I asked him to walk with me. “Haven’t classes started in your school?” I asked, trying to make conversation, and he explained he now goes in the afternoon, at a school just about a block away.
I was confused for a second, because I’ve known him as a young kid, but realized he’s now in junior high. And, as if it happened in that instant, I noticed his face had changed; it’s begining to fill out into his adult face. That happened fast.
Beginning junior high is a tricky time for anyone, but even more so in Guatemala. It’s the point where a kid is most likely to drop out.
So I asked a couple questions about how that was going, and he responded with the positive but vague and non-commital answers of a teenager. But then he volunteered, as if to explain himself, that he came to do some research, but the library was closed.
My mind jumped from the particular to the abstract narrative: A good kid, smart, growing up in an unstable, uncertain world…time on his hands, nothing structured to channel his energy into, can easily wander off the path.
When we passed by the library the door was indeed closed, though I could see someone was in there. Our regular libararian resigned recently to take another job, so people are being pulled in from other jobs to cover it in the interim, and apparently we haven’t got it down quite yet. So I stuck my head in and advocated for Oliver in a way he was hesitant to do for himself. We said goodbye, he went in and I went on my way, feeling more useful than on the typical morning.
In our planning process we set goals of creating a “safe environment” or an “oasis” of security and stability for affiliates, a place where there are rules and consequences, but that is also welcoming and encouraging so that kids have a real chance to develop into confident, capable adults. By its nature, goal-setting leads us to think in abstractions, but Tuesday morning, those abstract concepts became personal and real. A nice way to start the week.