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Our work is in planting seeds

Hallie Gayle served as a primary education volunteer in Limpopo, South Africa. She taught English to grades four, five and si

Maybe you join the Peace Corps to help communities on a large scale but the longer you stay, the more you realize that helping just a few people is just as great and maybe all we can do.

I've had the privilege of watching my learners grow through two different grades. I met them when they were little shy kids and now they are inches taller than me, joking with me in a language they could barely understand a year ago. They've gone from wide-eyed children to witty, intelligent adolescents.

There is one boy in particular who I can't help but smile every time I see him and talk to him.

When I first arrived, Papi was a shy grade 4 learner who sat in the back, always covering his hand over his work and hiding his face when I called on him to talk. His work was just a bunch of lines and scratches on a page. He had no phonemic awareness and barely spoke. He was in a reading group where we worked with SOUNS letters (an early literacy program) and practiced writing short sentences together.

Hallie Gayle Peace Corps South Africa
Hallie served as a primary education volunteer in Limpopo, South Africa.

Now Papi is in grade 6 and he is the one who always has his hand up to read. Though he may not be a fluent reader, he isn't afraid to try and he has grown faster than any learner I have known.

The other day he came to my office to read with me. I gave him a book that said grade 2 on the cover. "Ma'am, grade 2! No, no, no." I could see the frustration in his face and how he turned his body away from me.

I wanted to tell him that it wasn't his fault. That he should have had help and attention years ago. Instead I told him the story about the Rabbit and the Hare, and how those who take their time will win the race rather than those who are too proud. I told him his hard work inspires me and that being smart is not how well we can do something, but how we choose to do it.

About a month ago, I was a little fed up with grade 6's lack of effort. So I came down hard on them by giving them a very long poem to memorize by Friday. Poetry memorization is a biweekly thing for this class, but they had never seen a poem with five stanzas and words like "conquer" and "persevere."

The poem was called "Try, Try Again" and I told them that they were allowed to look at their notebooks on Friday but if they were to memorize it, I would give them extra credit.

A few girl learners memorized it. Most read from their journals. A few refused to say it at all. Then it was Papi's turn and he walked to the front of the class without his notebook.

"Papi, you can read from your notebook if you want," I told him.

"No Ma'am, I know it." I held my breath and so did the rest of the class. With his beautiful dimpled smile, Papi recited the entire poem perfectly. I almost started to cry!

The other day we had to write about a time when we wanted to give up but we didn't. Papi wrote about another boy in Grade 4 who's 13 and always getting into trouble. It was a rough but honest paragraph about how he sees this learner not trying and how he wants to help him and he's not going to give up on his friend.

Just one year ago Papi could barely write the word "dog" and now he's on fire with poetry and writing. That is why kids inspire me so much. Because once you get a concept into their head, they really believe it and will take it to the next level.

Here are the kids of the future. As Peace Corps Volunteers, we must know that our work is in planting seeds.