Friday, 18 December 2009
This Would Be Why
I've got so much to tell you about.
I have got the most beautiful picture of one of my students and I SO want to post it and show you what an exceptional young man he is and I am frustrated because I know I can't. I even played with puttin' the pic up here but as soon as I saw him there, so vunerable and open, smiling at the camera, I knew I had to take it down.
With all its frustrations and failures, 2009 has been a year of Grace. They take you right up to the wire, these kids. Just when you think there is no point, no hope; the Lord lifts your heart with a glimpse of what they will become. And there's not that many of them. We struggle and fight for them but in each season it is only one or two who turn back to you and smile and let you know it was worth it.
As you may know, this season has been a hard one for me. But then again...it's not about me.
'Gene' came to us in Year 9, out of Africa. He was 14. One of 6 children, he had arrived in Australia with an older sister two years earlier. The rest of his family were scattered across the Ivory Coast where they had fled to escape the war in their own country. No mother, no father, no idea where most of his family were. A ward of the State he arrived in our school with a scowl and an anger deeper and more justified than most of us could fathom.
My first encounter with him was from a distance. I watched him on the basketball courts, testosterone rich, aggressive, laughing maliciously as he commandeered the ball. I remember thinking, 'wow, that is one damaged kid.' To be honest, in that first glance I wondered what we could do for him; what anyone could do for him; to heal the wounds, pierce the armour of mistrust and anger.
Last year he was in my Year 10 Maths class. He came in with attitude.
I don't know what it was about him. Kids come to us all the time with issues, with anger, with attitude; it doesn't necessarily mean you will make a connection with them, most times it means you won't. There was this one lesson I remember............
Gene came in angry. I knew it was nothing to do with maths, with me...it was easy to say to him
'what's up mate? you don't seem yourself.'
He made it quickly apparent that he was not goig to discuss it, especially with ME. I don't know why it felt right but I suddenly felt the need to do something.
"You might not like this and I'm sorry about that but I'd really like to pray for you now."
I didn't give him a chance to object, put my hand on his arm, hunkered down beside him and said what I felt. "Lord there's stuff Gene can't share with anyone now and it's causing him pain and I just pray that you'll ease his pain and fill him with your peace and ......"
To be honest I can't even remember the words and it doesn't really matter. I didn't labour it and when I'd finished, before I stood up and moved off, he said, without looking at me, 'thanks for that.'
Over the year he gave me hell and I gave it back in spades. On one occasion when I'd kept him in to complete work he hadn't done in class he shook his head and said "I don't know, I used to be good at maths, before the war came."
We have no idea what these kids have been through.
Towards the end of the year there was a miracle in Gene's life. Most of his brothers and sister had been located and reunited here in Australia but in the middle of last year, after 6 years, the family finally found their mother. She was flown out here to be reunited weth her family and Gene left school early one day to meet her at the airport. The excitement was impossible to quantify. You have never seen a grin like the one on the face of that cheeky young man as he waited in the foyer for the taxi from Social Services to come and pick him up.
Months later when things had deteriorated and that beaming face had shut down completely I challenged him,
"How's things going with Mum?"
"Oh she just treats me like kid," he spat with contempt.
This young man, who had been spending most week nights in 'dance' battles at the mall with crews of other teens, was being asked to account for his whereabouts; it did not sit well and yet the guilt, over feeling anger with his mother, was enormous. Other members of the family had similar problems. His 24 year old sister moved out and ceased communications with her mother when she disapproved of her boyfriend. Mother felt ashamed in the face of the community's judgement. Gene was caught in the middle.
Once mother came in to school to sign something. Her English was rudimentary and her accent thick. Gene guided her through the procedure and protocol minefield with a tenderness that was overwhelming to behold. Where was the brash, arrogant teen, beating his chest and calling himself 'The Gene'? Was this the same lad who favours hip-hop music with language so raw it would make your eyes water!!!??
Another time he came to me and asked if he could do Year 10 Maths again. He hated it when I offered to help him in class but he wanted to negotiate a time for private lessons because he could see how desperately he needed to pick up his skills. The lessons never eventuated, I suspect they would have clashed with his after school work at KFC, but it was a sign of growing maturity.
So what do I say about Gene? He was an infrequent attendant at Care Group? He never handed up any work? He failed most of the subjects he had enrolled in this year? He sacrificed his place in the Dance performance because he would not give up his allocated shifts at KFC to come in to school for rehearsals in the holidays? He had so many lunch-time detentions for lateness that the powers that be had to negotiate some kind of community service alternative with him? All of this is true. But, the ladies in the Office who had 'use' of him during his 3 days of Community Service, at the end of the year when every other Year 11 had gone on holidays, couldn't speak highly enough of him.
He was helpful, co-operative, friendly, nothing was too much trouble. He came in correctly attired (unlike another, more privileged young man who refused to comply with uniform requirements and eventually chose to end his time at our school), he worked with initiative and he made life for the office staff just that much easier at a very busy and trying time of year.
Once, during the year, as I watched him impatiently sitting through assembly but responding to my requests to listen respectfully, I wondered what would become of him. What could I see him becoming? Truthfully I had no idea and yet, I saw as if in a blinding flash, that whatever he became he would primarily be a loving husband and father.
He's coming back to school next year for his final year. Many of the staff are amazed that he's even bothering but as I keep pointing out, the SACE (South Australian Certificate of Education) is basically an attendence certificate. We should be able to drag him through the hoops; a VET course here, a Community Study there, a practical course perhaps? Carpentry? (or Shop as it is known in some primary settings)....
I don't think it's going to be an easy year; I suspect the all night 'dance battles' will continue and the work will not get handed in.
But he has come such a long way.