I have seen bright new smiles
on so many faces in the past few years. That still surprises me, because a lot of my OneSky work has been with young people who haven’t had much to smile about—kids who have lost family members to AIDS, for instance.
Yet time and again, I see young people regain hope for their lives, and I never get tired of sharing that happiness.
Over the past year, I have been at work on a project that is putting smiles not just on the faces of the young, but on the faces of the very old. In fact, my plan now is to get everybody smiling—in every village where I work! But I am realistic enough to know that it might take awhile.
When I first visited the four pilot villages in OneSky’s Village Model Program, they were sad places. With young parents away at work in the cities, both grandparents and children were feeling the loss.
Many of these village families, what was left of them, were near destitute, dependent on a small plot of land for food, with nothing left over. The grandparents were frail, worn down by hard physical work all their lives. They faced a rocky existence with no safety net, even without the burdens of bad weather, sickness, injury, and trying to care for grandchildren.
They were doing the best they could, but they had no one to turn to. It’s no wonder they seemed isolated and discouraged.
My job now is to help get OneSky’s programs going, to think of ways to get everyone involved and hopeful again. A village should be a good place for everyone who lives there, especially for the children.
From my days as a OneSky Field Trainer and my experience as a Child Development Expert, I knew ways to work with the children, and how to train teachers and caregivers in OneSky’s loving methods. Now I needed to go several steps beyond. Not only did I need to get the preschools started, but I wanted to organize family skills support for the adults, and to work on community engagement. I wanted to reach out and set up local centers where everyone can gather so that run-down villages can come to life again.
The first challenge always is to find spaces for the preschools for the three-to-six-year-olds, plus community centers, and then to get everything cleaned up and prepared. When the classroom doors open, the walls are painted and decorated. Paper and crayons and picture books are waiting on the tables. Outdoor areas—a sandbox, a play area ringed with tires painted in pastel colors—are waiting.
So are loving teachers who reach out with big smiles and encouragement. The teachers take time to learn about each child’s story and circumstances. They make home visits, to see how the child lives, to meet family members, and to learn what each child needs to grow and thrive.
In the OneSky community centers, the adults are welcomed. They get company and support, tips on how to care for children and nurture their development. They get help with the balancing act they all are facing.
Best of all, I think everyone starts feeling a little less alone.
The first four village programs have been going for more than a year now, and I can see so much progress. When little Baoyun came to our early childhood program, she hadn’t yet learned to crawl, although she was more than a year old. We talked to her mother, telling her how important it is for a baby to crawl as part of healthy development. She said their home had dirt floors and she had been reluctant to let the baby crawl there.
We encouraged the mother to sit with her child on the center’s new floor mats, and we showed her how to hold out a toy to encourage Baoyun to crawl toward it. The mother got the idea right away. As Baoyun lay on her stomach watching, her mother sat and dangled a bright toy bear. As the mother smiled and jiggled the toy, the baby tried pushing herself up with her arms. We knew that little Baoyun was on her way.
For some of the grandparents, the programs have meant help beyond their dreams. One boy arrived at school unable to walk, and his grandparents said they assumed he couldn’t be helped. The teacher spent some time with the family and encouraged them to seek medical care. They did, the boy was treated, and before long he began to gain strength in his legs. “Thanks to his teacher,” exclaimed the grandfather, “our boy can be saved.”
Even the smaller breakthroughs always warm my heart—children singing lullabies and making construction paper hats. Two kids making a “telephone” from paper cups linked to each other with string. Or seeing a grandmother picking up her grandchild at school, both of them laughing as they walk home.
It’s no wonder I find myself smiling, too. Now I have work to do in even more newly opened OneSky villages!