I have always wondered how our lives would make better sense if we strive to really understand who we are meant to be. But it was not until I reached my mid-twenties that I discovered what it really meant to be human– imperfect, but still capable of being loved and giving loved.
For a year, I worked as a guidance officer in a school in San Juan City, Philippines. Through that job I found a new perspective in life, thanks to a five-year-old girl named Andi.
I was pretty much terrified by the thought of interacting with children; but then Andi changed my life. Paper boats, color pencils, glue, stapler, and scissors– my best memories of her are connected with these five items.
Andi made me realize what it meant to find joy in discovery and meaning in simplicity. That first day when she walked into my office, she fumbled about in quiet shyness. Clearly uncomfortable with herself and with her new life at school, she tried to put up a brave front. We were kindred spirits at that moment. She was me; I was her. I, too, was uncomfortable adjusting to my new duties as a guidance officer for all the students in that school. It was a huge responsibility and the thought was unnerving.
But that pressure didn’t stop me from wanting to make Andi feel safe. Approaching her calmly I said, “Hello, Andi. Do you know how to make paper boats?”
Looking at me with curious eyes, she shook her head.
So I said, “Come on, I’ll teach you.”
I showed her how to make her very first paper boat. She was clearly happy about doing this new thing with me. Knowing full well that some kids prefer to play using their high-tech gadgets, I was surprised to see Andi excited to make her very own paper boat. I felt excited as well.
The paper boat made sense to Andi. Holding the triangular structure that she believed she had made through powerful observation, she felt very proud. She had created something new!
She started sharing her life with me since then.
As I listened to her talk about her thoughts through the paper boats we made (almost hundreds of them in different colors and sizes), I became fascinated by her dreams. She showed me a pink boat and said, “Pink will be the color of my house.” At one time she showed me a boat with colorful flowers on it, saying that she loved flowers and that she wanted to have a real boat too.
When I brought colored, pencils into the picture, those pencils became a floodgate for more of Andi’s creativity. Her newly-discovered love for paper boat-making was now supplemented by a drive to make colorful drawings!
My entire office was gradually covered in drawings as my heart slowly filled up with the stories she told of each drawing she made. She literally and figuratively brought color back into my life.
Her strokes were squiggly; sometimes black, sometimes green. Sometimes she just drew heart shapes. She even tried to write a crooked “I love you”. She misspelled her name as “Ambi” each time she tried to write it but laughed it off, anyway.
We often assume that children only do foolish things. We are quick to judge their thoughts, words, and actions as mere products of naivete. However, if we choose to take a closer look at how they understand the world, we may soon realize that children are precious little pieces of poetry. Your own world can be touched by the messages of purity, hope, and love that they contain. That is if you take the time to learn how to read them. This is how children change the world.
The high cost of 21st-century living is a warped perception of what it means to truly live. I think all of us would benefit from taking the time to create our own simple paper boats as Andi did. Time well-spent indeed.
Every person deserves to live believing that his life is as precious to God as a simple paper boat is to the child who made it; that it can be filled with color if he chooses to fill it; that even if it floats on water, softens, and eventually disintegrates into a thousand pieces, it is a paper boat worth building.
Andi changed my world that year. I believe this now.
Written by Sarah Danielle Caaway, a WYA Asia Pacific Regional Extern