By Norris Burkes June 26 2023
Have you ever witnessed a reluctant child standing outside an open kindergarten door? The child’s arms are wrapped around the legs of a parent, not wanting to cross the threshold of learning.
If so, you’ll know the point of view I enjoyed last week from inside Chispa Project’s newly established school library in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
It was Inauguration Day and the freshly painted library pulsed with enthusiasm. Latin music wafted through the walls, providing a rhythmic soundtrack for the kids already inside perusing their new books.
Yet amidst the excitement of bright, welcoming posters and new shelves, one child stood still in the doorway, as if overwhelmed by the sensory cacophony.
The father/son duo shaded the library’s threshold. Inside, the kindergartners were bouncing like kangaroos on new beanbags decorated with the Chispa logo.
Overstuffed library shelves may have seemed daunting with their 2,072 books. I know this precise number of books because I was among the Chispa staff and U.S. volunteers who had counted, cataloged and shelved them onto racks we assembled and painted.
Joseph’s father shared his son’s saucer eyes. Both seemed frozen in disbelief. The colorful, energetic room seemed a concept too revolutionary to grasp, because school libraries are so rare. Most Hondurans only know school libraries as a place where books are jealously lent out from inside caged stacks. Finding a commonplace children’s picture book, like “Cat in the Hat,” can be near impossible.
No one inside the new library paid Joseph any mind, not even his twin brother Jefferson, whose attention was captivated by a special puppet show. Crouched behind a shelf, the puppeteer explained library rules through the big-mouth exaggeration of a Muppet-lookalike named Lucia.
Joseph hugged his daddy’s leg a little tighter, unsure of the talking muppet. Dad dropped to Joe’s eye level, offering whispered advice. He pointed. Still, no matter the pleading, bribing and encouragement, Joseph stood fast.
That’s when I waved a bright cushion to draw the attention of them both. I plopped it onto the floor and pointed to a spot saved just for him. I repeated the mime a few times, until Joseph’s father was able to nudge him toward the waiting cushion.
The boy took a seat among 28 other kindergartners. Unyielding to my smile, he maintained a guarded arm’s length.
I had little idea what the boy was thinking, but as I watched his father linger another five minutes in the doorway, I had a pretty good idea what Dad was feeling.
He was scared.
Scared he might lose Joseph. School, after all, is where Joseph and his brother would learn independence — how to live apart from their dad and mom.
The father in the doorway was likely asking himself questions such as, “Will my boys learn something today that will help them go farther than I have gone? Will they thrive, will they lead, will they come to know themselves?”
Perhaps even more important, would Joseph and his twin learn to ask better questions than he was now asking himself?
These are questions I asked myself as I stood at the kindergarten door of my first born, Sara. I replayed the questions as she walked the jetway for her first trip to Honduras in 2011.
Since Sara founded Chispa Project, it has brought 78 libraries to Honduran schools as well as 50,000 new books. She assuaged my fears, made her choices, and led others to help the children of Honduras.
In the meantime, you needn’t worry about Joseph. As the puppet show progressed, Joseph soon joined in the laughter and fun of his new library.
A few hours later in a different classroom, he even made a new friend – a cute girl named Carmen.
But don’t you worry, Joe’s dad. With his imagination now sparked by the books in his new library, he will likely need your help in making many other decisions.
While the library at the República de Alemania School in the capital of Tegucigalpa is now established, it is not yet fully funded. Please consider a donation today at www.chispaproject.org/chaplain.
Write checks to “Chispa Project” and send to Norris at 10556 Combie Rd. Suite 6643 Auburn, CA 95602. Read past columns at www.thechaplain.net. Contact Norris at [email protected] or via voicemail (843) 608-9715.