The children were subdued on the first day of the art camp as they sat and watched me, their lively American teacher, make all sorts of attempts to entertain and communicate with them in broken Creole, elementary French and my native English, which they barely understood, if at all.
Of the 3 boys and 7 girls in my class not one of them missed a day of attendance all week. The youngest boy was seven or eight, and the older children were 13 or 14. Phillipe was about 12 years old with a serious demeanor. His eyes took everything in as he, no doubt, was working to evaluate what was going on and what to make of this American lady. He showed up early every day in clean clothes, but he was not overly playful.
He responded well to the initial art activity in which they were instructed to draw a tree. There were not many parameters put around the tree drawings except that each tree should fill up the paper and should have roots. I could immediately tell that this boy was naturally artistic and really warmed to this task. He drew elaborate leaves and outlined the trunk of the tree in a creative an colorful way. Yet, he was uncomfortable making eye contact with me most of the time.
As the days went by I could tell that the children enjoyed the story-telling activities that I led them in. When I gave them the task of writing their own stories things became a little more difficult for them. We had to go back to the concepts of “beginning, middle and end” more than once and made a lot of efforts to refine story ideas into some sense of coherence without the fatalistic ending “and then everybody died” that seemed so common to these stories. Did the children not know of another way to end the stories?
Phillipe’s group of boys worked on their story with the help of my Haitian teaching assistant for several days. What they finally came up with was a story with the lesson that “everyone is equal,” which recounted the volleyed taunting of a dog and a cat until another creature came by and remarked upon the beauty of each creature. I was pleased with that, and it was quite apparent that these boys were very pleased with themselves. Phillipe had worked to draw a beautiful road-side scene for the background of their story and the boys had created puppets with brown paper lunch-sacks to act as dogs and cats for the story.
I noticed that he had warmed up to me quite a bit and actually seemed to be having more fun with the tasks that were given. On the final day we had our Celebration with all of the Art Camp classes together. I was so proud of my class as they repeated a poem about having the strength of trees for their parents and friends, and shared one of the group’s stories. As I sat down on the bench, with the children from my class squeezed up against me, I told them in Creole that I was very happy. At this point, Phillipe leaned forward and with a sweet smile that lit up his whole face he told me, in Creole, “me too.”