The longer Deb and I go to Hera volunteer the more we get to know the people we spend time with there. We get to learn about their families, their struggles and we have even been able to visit a few of their homes. I have written before about how empty these homes were, empty of “stuff”, of furniture, of anything really.
But it was when several of the mothers began asking to borrow equipment from the centre that our eyes were opened yet again. So on several occasions we lent out crayons, a toy or two or even a book and it was always returned the next week. The lady in charge of the centre, chatted with us about possibly giving the children some tasks to do during the week, as very few of them own colouring in things, toys or books.
We are not wealthy in Australian eyes, but the more we live in Timor, the more we see just how rich we are in comparison to most of the local people we live amongst. Sam has always had at least one set of crayons or pencils, if not more, he has colouring books, blank paper, coloured paper and notebooks to scribble and draw in. The idea that the cost of buying a colouring book and a set of crayons is too expensive for a family is just heart breaking. And so the idea of colouring in packs was born!
A shopping trip was needed and surprisingly colouring in books, note pads and paper are cheaper here than in Oz. So we bought giant pencil cases and filled them with blank paper, a colouring in / sticker book, note cards, an exercise book, a small book in Tetun about numbers and letters, pencils or crayons, a sharpener, a pair of scissors, and a glue stick. Each pack was slightly different depending upon the needs and abilities of the recipient. Some had just a colouring book, while others can use a dot to dot book, others are able to do basic maths skills, so we included this for them. Some kids need crayons, others were able to use a pen, and for others pencils are best.
It felt like Christmas. I had flashbacks of making shoeboxes at Oxley College for Samaritan’s Purse all over again, and realised again just precious gifts like these are. At Hera the next week, we distributed the colouring in packs with the explanation that this was a gift for them from Deb and I. It was our way to say thank you for welcoming us and helping us with our Tetun. It was our way to remind the families that God loves them and we love them too.
The families looked grateful. The kids were excited! Eager smiles were on faces everywhere as we gave each child one, with their name on it, collated just for them. It felt good to help. It felt good to meet a need, encourage more fine motor skill practice, encourage art and creativity, perhaps fill a boredom gap in some of their lives.
But it was only afterwards that the impact of our gifts became apparent. The Mum who had been borrowing crayons, we were later told, was doing so to keep her three year old and teenage son who has cerebral palsy occupied at the market, while she sells produce to support their household. She is a single Mum. The lady who runs the centre said she had seen the boys drawing and colouring in late into the evening at the market with those borrowed crayons.
The next week, several children arrived at the centre carrying their pencil cases. A little shyly, several young people showed us their work from the week. What was we found hidden in those pencil cases brought tears to our eyes. Several students had colouring books beautifully coloured in with every page complete. One boy had every note card drawn on with bright colourful images of houses and people. One young woman had drawn Dr Seuss style whimsical illustrations on many pages of paper. Dot to dot books were completed, every activity done accurately and carefully. Pencils were half used up just from a week of use. Pages of exercise books contained random Tetun words, the alphabet and numbers.
Amongst these students of ours, there is a hunger to know and do more, and we could see this clearly in drawings, completed activities and finished colouring books. So we sat with each child who had brought their pencil case and tried our best in our limited Tetun to praise their efforts. We showed their care giver who was also present and praised the child’s work to them. We refilled paper and supplied a new colouring book where they had been completed so carefully. In one case the activities required matching shapes and completing patterns, which had been left blank, so we looked at the task and completed several together so they were able to do the rest unassisted.
Many of these young people come from families that are too poor to afford colouring in supplies for their children, but i love that because God has put Deb and I in this place, we can give them this gift. This gift that for the three year old sitting in the market place with his mum, is a helping to prepare him for preschool and literacy! This gift allows a deaf boy, who is yet unable to communicate formally, a place to draw, design and dream. This gift allows others to express their creativity and sense of beauty onto the page. This gift allows other to practise arithmetic and mathematical skills that may be of use someday.
I am so thankful that as God puts us in the places He desires for us, we can respond to the needs we see around us and make a difference in people’s lives.