Friday was one of my happiest days as a teacher. My Thai co-teacher left the room and the entire class (2/1–my homeroom, my favorites) spontaneously busted out singing Zombie by the Cranberries. Naturally, I joined in with resounding gusto. We managed to get through the chorus two full times before, upon seeing Teacher Jit imminently approaching down the hallway, we became muted and motionless again in our desks. After asking my class some questions about what Tarzan eats for breakfast, I decided it was time to reveal the much anticipated Disney-decorated package. They had seen this new, unfamiliar package sitting on my desk all morning and were intrigued, asking me questions, eager to discover its contents.
I explained slowly and with drawings on the board that the package was for them. Letters from America. Your pen pals, your new friends. Most of them looked confused, but all it takes is one student understanding to create an eventual domino effect. That ah-ha moment I am perpetually looking for. Today it was Bright who had the Eureka moment, and, overjoyed, he ran to the front of the class and grabbed the mic to translate in Thai for the rest of the bewildered students, effectively causing all 39 faces in the room to light up.
Inside the package were 39 personalized letters from my afterschool kids at Soulshine Children’s Studio in Atlanta, Georgia. Élan (my former co-worker) and I decided to start a correspondence between my Thai homeroom and the children (aged 5-11) and even Mr. Colton (aged 20) from Soulshine. As I called out each name and doled out their letters, the kids could not contain themselves. The genuine looks of appreciation that came over them as I handed out their letters will forever be memorable to me. They were humble. They were beaming. Such excitement propelled them out of their seats. The enthusiasm was infectious. They were running around the classroom, marveling at the designs on their envelopes, franticly tearing them open, and racing to me, letter in hand, so that I may translate for them. Like novice musicians, they wanted to decipher the language their notes were composed of and find meaning within the lines. Soon, a queue formed in front of me. The rest of the children went around exchanging and comparing letters, making fun of the sloppy handwriting (Thais are meticulous with their penmanship, even in English), and repeating the names of their new pen pals. It was heartwarming and a bit startling to hear my Thai kids pronouncing my old kids’ names out loud. As I walked around, I heard ‘Al-den,’ ‘En-Kai,’ ‘So-Pia.’ Old sounds, old memories. Reminders that home still exists.
It was a big day and a very special moment. I felt so connected with the kids in my class and my kids back at home all at one time. My heart swelled. I have never seen my students so elated, so effusive, so united in their happiness, so engrossed in a single moment. The impact ran deep.
This week, I will arrange small groups in letter writing workshops. Together, we will read through their letters, and they will write their responses and, hopefully, form the beginnings of new friendships. I will also include pictures of each of my students in their letters, as many of the questions addressed to them implored, “Are you a boy or a girl?” I guess Pacharanum isn’t exactly a dead give away, but, then again, neither is Sophia to them.
Also included in the package was a surprise for me: 21 handwritten letters from 20 Soulshiners and 1 teacher, all of them addressed to Miss Josalin. They love me and they miss me and I feel the same way. Another gift, a profound and timely quote from Élan:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. It is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves: Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are we not to be? Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. We are all meant to shine. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure. We were born to make manifest the glory that is within us. It is within everyone, and when we let our own light shine we give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
In other words, Make Your Soul Shine!
I am eternally grateful for this day, for Soulshine, and for the looks on those 39 faces. Many, many thanks. Letters from Thailand coming soon.