“Then he asked me, ‘Son of man, can these bones become living people again?”
“O Sovereign Lord,” I replied, “you alone know the answer to that.”
In the fall of 2014, I went with my daughters to hear Robert Katende and Phiona Mutesi speak at a church in Steele Creek. As excited as I was to hear “The Queen of Katwe,” a chess prodigy from the slums of Uganda, I was more excited to meet her teacher, Robert. I had been teaching ESL to adult refugees for two years, the latter spend at Project 658 building a program from scratch.
After their time of sharing, I found Robert and asked him to sign my book. He casually asked me what I did for a living. When I told him that I taught English to adult refuges from all over the world, he stopped writing. He got a serious look on his face, closed my book in mid signature, and tucked it under his arm. He then reached to clasp my hand in both of his and shook it.
He said, “Thank you for teaching adults how to read and write. I was a refugee and, in my city, we do not help the adults much. We focus on the children. Our goal is to reach them young. Thank you for being someone who wants to help the ones who are old. It’s so hard to do.”
He finished singing my Queen of Katwe book, and I went to find my children.
I thought about this story this week as I set out to call my students to let them know we are trying to resume our English classes at half capacity in November. Communication by phone is one of the more complicated elements of my job since I teach our beginner class, many of whom have never been in a formal educational setting. If it is a good day, there might be someone nearby or a neighbor next door who can translate for me.
I called the home of two of my Syrian students who live under one roof with the rest of their large family. One is an older woman in her mid-sixties who has never learned to read or write, and whose husband I learned during my short conversation with the daughter in law, had passed away this summer. The phone was later handed to a 12-year-old, who helped translate the information I needed in order to plan for our class to relaunch.
She let me know that her mother would be unable to return until she and her four brothers and sisters were no longer doing school from home due to the Covid-19 virus.
“Will you please ask your grandmother if she is ready to come back?” I asked.
The young girl paused and then spoke several sentences in Arabic.
“Oh yes, my grandmother is very ready to come back now,” she said.
There was laughter in the background, and then her grandmother took the phone.
“Oh, thank you teacher. I am happy,” she said to me.