This past week we said goodbye to the teachers and children of our crèches. While I knew that leaving wouldn’t be easy, I was underprepared for how much it would hit my heart.
One of the first things I noticed upon my initial arrival at my crèches was the selection of books available. Of the minimal books featuring humans, almost all of the characters were white. For a school where all of the children and staff are of color in a community in which one rarely sees white people. As a parting gift, I brought various books featuring black characters. Immediately upon bringing out the first book, one of the girls gasped, “Look! It’s me!” as she pointed to a picture of two black children on the cover. Another boy came up. She exclaimed, “It’s me and you!” They smiled and touched the picture and were excited to go through the pages before I read to the class. After reading the book, I gave the children a chance to look through the pages. They all gathered in a circle around the book and pointed to each picture exclaiming, “This one’s me!” as they turned through the pages over and over again.
While I know that representation is important, it really put into perspective how much more engaged a child can be in their learning when they feel seen and valued. I had never before seen the children so interested in books until that day.
As I leave, I hope that I’ve made a lasting positive impact on not only the children, but also the teachers here in Vrygrond. Being an early childhood educator can be grueling, even at home in the U.S. This is the case even moreso here in Vrygrond, where the teacher:child ratio is lower. One of the teachers mentioned to me while we were saying our goodbyes that she had been feeling overwhelmed and burnt out as a teacher lately, but that my presence in the classroom brought a new energy and recentered her. Some days it felt like I wasn’t able to do enough, but it is so fulfilling to know that sometimes even just bringing fresh perspective and positivity can make a world of difference. Even though I can’t stay in the classroom with the kids, I know that I can be there for them, in some sense, by leaving the teachers feeling rejuvenated.