There is really only one word to describe Tabby: sassy. She tells it like it is. She has no patience for … well, anything really. She is constantly bossing all the other children around, scolding them and correcting them. During my homework help class she is always the first to thrust her notebook under my nose and cry, “Miss! Miss! Miss! I need help first!” Even though each and every class I tell everyone I will start with the youngest children first. She doesn’t walk anywhere but skips or dances or runs. Tabby’s signature stance is both hands on hips, rolling her eyes at the world.
She is also incredibly generous. Each afternoon as we make our way down the mountain towards our homes (Tabby careening along with her feet hardly touching the ground, me carefully placing each step) she shares her grapefruit or her guinep and scales the branches of a guava tree when I tell her I’ve never eaten it before. We sing Adele songs together, or sometimes a hymn (now that I’m a regular church goer I know many off by heart.) She makes me laugh a lot and she is very protective. She warns me which goats buck and which dogs bite (very helpful information to have.) She shouts at her friend when she spits near me, telling her that is bad manners in front of Miss.
Tabby finds reading very difficult. Although she is in Grade 5 she struggles to sound out even basic words and cannot comprehend anything she has read aloud. When we reach her home I see her mother and aunt asleep on the front porch, just as they were when I passed several hours before. I remember the school principal telling me that most children do not have parents who are willing or able to help them with their homework, which is why we hold After School classes. Many of the family members are illiterate themselves, and often unemployed with very little to do all day.
Tabby calls out to me as she goes inside, “When will you come again?” I tell her not tomorrow but the next day. She lingers in the doorway, watching me walk away. One of the ladies startles awake and yells something at Tabby, who wordlessly begins filling a large tub with water. I wonder what the future holds for this young girl, and so many other children like her, when being literate and employed is such a rarity here. I wonder what kind of difference I can possibly make in twelve months; if there is something bigger I could be doing than helping individual children to read. Then I think perhaps that is one of the biggest things you could ever possibly do. Still, I walk the rest of the way home with a heavy heart.