Living

A new chapter

We paired six literacy learners with six mentors and told them to write about their lives

“From the age of fourteen months until I was thirty-two, I had epileptic seizures,” begins the essay by Gail Boyle. “I had no quality of life; I wasn’t given the chance to learn to read or write. Nobody thought I could. I never dreamed of coming home.”
Boyle, who lives in Nova Scotia, was one of six women who participated in a project that was part of Chatelaine’s year-long Make-a-Change initiative. The plan was ambitious: Pair literacy learners from across the country with mentors who would help them write a personal story. “We wanted to help women, who have struggled in ways most of us can only imagine, to find a venue to express themselves,” says Katie Dupuis, a Chatelaine editor who took the lead on the project. “Storytelling is powerful.
On the page, writers share a part of their lives.”
Dupuis contacted Frontier College, a national literacy organization, which agreed to select the students, all of whom were working on their reading and writing skills. And then she began recruiting novelists, journalists, professors and filmmakers to assist them. The first mentor she called was her own: University of Windsor professor and poet Susan Holbrook. “She’s the one who really pushed me in my writing,” says Dupuis, who took Holbrook’s creative-writing classes as an undergraduate student.
For the next four months, each pair communicated by phone and email, and met in coffee shops. The essays they have produced represent six different portraits of what it means to be a literacy student — and a woman and a single mother and a newcomer and an outsider — in Canada.
When some people think of literacy learners learners, they think that it’s their fault,” says Jennifer Day, a community coordinator at Frontier College in Vancouver. “That’s just not the case. There are all kinds of circumstances and experiences that lead them to where they are.”
That’s certainly true of our six students, and their essays echo these realities. Among them are Julia Malookaya, trained as a doctor in Russia, who might be the most overqualified nanny in Vancouver; Nadia Flores, a Mexican linguist who worked on farms in rural Ontario with other migrants; and Entesar Ansari, fluent in four languages and an Iraqi geography teacher until she fled the Middle East with her two young sons.
Then there’s Kiki Cater, a Toronto single mother, working to get through school to show her young son what she’s made of; Hitomi Shiraishi, a Japanese teacher working as a caregiver, and, perhaps most moving of all, Boyle, who thought she’d never read or write.
Crafting and shaping her story was nerve-racking, Boyle says. “I didn’t want my words to be changed. I wanted my story to still be mine.”
Malookaya adds: “When you write about your life, you relive lots of memories. Writing opened up some private things, things that were important to me. But I wasn’t sure they would be interesting to other people.”
The six mentors — Holbrook, screenwriter and humorist Anne Fenn, journalist Alison Gillmor, memoir writer Abigail Carter, novelist and teacher Gail Anderson-Dargatz, and writer and filmmaker Shandi Mitchell — were touched by the experience. They say they’ll stay in touch to see how their students progress. For Anderson-Dargatz, who worked with Shiraishi, this project has already proven useful: She’s working with the literacy group ABC Canada on a series of novels specifically targeted to adult literacy learners.
“My mother’s formal education ended after Grade 3,” she says. “But she learned on her own and went on to tutor adult literacy learners. They had come from other countries or struggled in school, and they’d lost confidence in their stories. I was a young adult when she started tutoring, and I was in awe.”
The students’ essays are both heartbreaking and hopeful. One talks about tasting fresh pineapple for the first time; another describes the fear of being an illegal worker. (They can all be read at Chatelaine.com/literacyproject.)
When Ansari arrived in Winnipeg in 2001 with her two young sons, it was only two years after her husband died from a brain tumour. “We arrived late at night and went right to bed,” she wrote. “When I woke up the next morning, I looked out the window and saw a small garden filled with gravestones.”
But they also speak about finding a sense of belonging. “The best part was that I could connect to the community of immigrants and illegal workers through this project,” says Flores. “I was the voice of so many of them: Their stories are my story.”
For Cater, who left school at 15, the project was a chance to reflect on the past. “When I was a teenager, my mom and I didn’t get along,” she says. “I was more into my friends than going to class. So I moved out and was faced with a choice: Go to school or pay the rent.” Cater has been working with Frontier College to qualify for her high-school diploma; this September, it arrived in the mail. “This is something I did for myself and for my son,” she says. “I realized that before I can better him, I have to better myself.”

Then and Now by Gail Boyle (Mentor: Shandi Mitchell)

From the age of 14 months until I was thirty-two, I had epileptic seizures. I had no quality of life. I always had to rely on others. It took all the good out of me. I had many injuries. I was always falling. I was always hurting myself.
Back then people didn’t understand my illness. Many people with disabilities were put in institutions and labelled “mentally retarded.” Families tried to do what was best and listened to their doctors. I was seven when I was put in such a place.
It felt like I’d lost all my rights as a human being. It felt like I had no right to be in the community and that I should be shut away. I was angry and bitter and frustrated. I had no power. I learned that no one was going to protect me. I had to protect myself. I learned not to trust anyone. People were always telling me what to do. Every minute was controlled. I could only see my family on weekends. The other children and I became like a family. My way of surviving was to fight back and keep my sense of humour.
I wasn’t given the chance to learn to read or write. Nobody thought I could. I also didn’t care about learning then. I tried to hide not being able to read or write, because I felt embarrassed and ashamed. I wouldn’t ask for help. I was afraid that people would make fun of me. And they did.
When I was 18, they told me I was free to go. I was an adult then and they couldn’t hold me against my will. But that was what they had been doing for all those years. I couldn’t believe it!
But I was still having seizures. Epilepsy was still robbing me of my life. Brain surgery was my last option. I knew the risks. I told the surgeon, “I can’t be any worse than what I am now.” It has been 19 years since my surgery and I am seizure free. I was given a second chance. My doctor said, “Now what are you going to do with your life?” I didn’t have an answer then.
It wasn’t easy. I worked hard. Many people and tutors helped me. These are things I never dreamed of doing:
I never dreamed of coming home.
I never dreamed that I could do so much for myself.
I never dreamed of having my own place.
I never dreamed of being in the community.
I never dreamed that people would care about me.
I never dreamed of having friends.
I never dreamed that some day I would have peace with myself.
I never dreamed that I would be the same as everyone else.
And I never dreamed that I would learn to read and write.
Learning to read and write has given me freedom. My world before was so closed in. Now my world is big. I can pick up all kinds of books and read them by myself. I can read signs, recipes, articles and contracts. Now people can’t take advantage of me anymore. Now I stand up for myself and what I believe is right. Now I don’t feel as much shame and embarrassment. Now I am not afraid to speak up. Now I know I am not stupid. Now I can help other people who have seizures and other people who can’t read.
I have learned that I have the right to freedom. I have the right to be equal. I have the right to be in society and no one has the right to control me or take my power away. I have the right to make some mistakes in my life. No one is perfect. I have the right to be happy for myself.
I sing in a choir, I volunteer, I go for long walks and I don’t worry about getting injured. I am bilingual in French and English. I knit, sew, crochet, embroider, and cook. I know my heart is in the right place.
I still have a long way to go. But I know how far I’ve come. I am beginning to trust people more. I am friendlier with other people. I am not as afraid. I have more patience with other people and with myself. Things are much better now than they were before.
Some people said I would never be anybody. No one has the right to say that to anyone.
I am somebody. I am somebody who matters.

Pineapple Dreams by Julia Malookaya (Mentor: Abigail Carter)

In one of the numerous grey, sad-looking buildings of Stavropol, on a rainy day, in an ordinary apartment, something special was happening. My grandmother and grandfather had just arrived excitedly with the biggest parcel I have ever seen. Born a few years before World War II, my grandparents spent their childhood trying to survive during the war. Now they were especially happy for me and curious to be a part of my childhood experience — full of hopes and free of fears. We were all so impatient to open the package that we sat on the floor just inside the front door. The parcel was from my parents who were living in Moscow for one year without me. It was my first time away from parents in my eight-year life, so I was happy for every letter, phone call, and, especially, parcel — this one in particular, because it was for my birthday.
After the first cut of the parcel’s wrapping, a strong, citrus smell of my favourite fruit — mandarin oranges — hit my nose. Most kids received mandarin oranges in their New Year’s gift bags. I almost forgot that I was opening a birthday, and not a New Year’s, parcel. New Year in the USSR was as big as Christmas is in the rest of the world, since religion was an enemy of communistic propaganda.
Next, a shiny, oddly shaped candy box promised something extremely delicious. I was certain I would love it because of the shiny English letters on the box. My mother, an English teacher, told me later on the phone that the letters spelled Happy Birthday! I wanted to try the candies right away.
“No, sweetie, not right now. You must save them for your birthday. A special treat for a special day. Alright, but just a few. The rest we will save for a special occasion.” My grandma was always trying to save rare things for special occasions, fearful of their absence.
The final package contained a white T-shirt with a picture of a big pineapple on the front. The cold bitterness of knowing I would never taste a real pineapple, something I had only ever seen on TV, melted in the heat of the excitement and was forgotten as I tried on the T-shirt.
But several years later, when I was thirteen, I had my first taste of pineapple from a can. My mom received a gift bag with food and cosmetics that we could not buy, from her former student who had moved to the USA. Unlike my grandma, my mom believed that we should enjoy the present moment, because you never knew what might happen tomorrow, especially in Russia.
“Mom, can we open the can of pineapple now?” I begged.
“Sure, sweetie. Let’s go to the kitchen and try everything!”
A fresh, sweet aroma, unlike any other smell I knew, filled my senses making my mouth water. I took a small bite of a pineapple wanting to enjoy every bit. The juicy, sweet-sour pulp melted in my mouth. As much as I loved the canned pineapple, I wondered what a fresh pineapple tasted like…
A few months later I travelled to France with my school. My mom managed to pay for the seven-day trip by selling her only gold earrings, a gift from my father for her 30th birthday. It was in Paris that I saw my first real pineapple. There was a small grocery store beside our hotel with boxes full of pineapples. I approached the shop and stood there for a few seconds gazing at them. I picked one up to see how heavy it was and smelled its aroma. The owner appeared smiling and greeted me. I smiled back and asked the price. The answer took away my smile. I politely thanked him and put the pineapple back. Instead I enjoyed two or three bowls of canned pineapples for breakfast in our hotel.
On New Year’s Eve 1996, two years later, I finally got to try a fresh pineapple. Pineapples were now available in my hometown, but very expensive. As I was to host that year’s New Year’s Eve party, I decided to surprise my guests with a special treat — pineapple with champagne. Cruising snowy streets and crowded stores, I found a street vendor selling exotic fruits. I had no idea how to tell whether a pineapple was ripe or not. They all looked exactly the same. I had no choice but to buy a pineapple hoping that it would be sweet. Loaded with New Year’s gifts, drinks and the pineapple on top, I flew home, trying to keep my balance on the icy road. Since buses were crowded I had to walk. But no obstacle could take away my smile.
My friends arrived early to help decorate the apartment and cook dinner. I was nervous cutting the pineapple. All of my friends were waiting breathlessly, anticipating the taste. None of them had ever tried pineapple either, but I reserved the right to taste it first.
“Julia, how is it?” asked one of my friends.
I was trying to steal a few seconds to enjoy the cold sweet nectar in my mouth.
My happy face and wide smile made everybody even more impatient.
“Oh, mmm. I think I need another piece. It’s so hard to say right away!” I teased.
When the clock started counting down to midnight, we filled our glasses with champagne and finally allowed ourselves to eat the rest of the pineapple. The exotic sweet juice mixed with bubbles of champagne pleased our senses, playing a symphony of new tastes in our mouths. But for me, there was a little bit of regret: Why couldn’t I afford those delicious pineapples more often?
A few years later when I was twenty-two, I participated in a Work and Travel Program, a three-month summer program that allowed me to work in the US. The first week after my arrival in Ocean City, Maryland, I had a recurring dream of walking in the cold autumn fog, feeling emotionally empty and scared to death that I was back in Russia. I was surprised by this fear of returning home in a few months.
Living in the USA, I realised that life could be full of hopes, opportunities and choices. In the USA, I could buy as many pineapples as I wanted. I liked the taste of my new life: fresh, enjoyable, affordable and sometimes unpredictable. Just like a pineapple. I never imagined returning to Russia would be such a painful process.
Home again, my nightmares returned, adding a bitter taste to my life. I was now working as a doctor in a hospital in Stavropol and falling in love with my job. Despite this, I continued to work on my English and searched the internet for suitable immigration programs. Eventually, I found one that allowed me to live and work in Canada.
A few months later a new period of my life had begun in Vancouver, Canada. With the first paycheque from working as a live-in caregiver, I went to the local grocery store and bought a fresh pineapple. As I paid for it, I realized that I no longer needed to use the word never when I talked about my future. That night my new Russian friend and I were celebrating our arrival in Canada with a bottle of sparkling wine and a fresh pineapple. I told my friend that as a child I didn’t believe that I would ever be able to eat fresh pineapple.
“Cheers!” I said holding up my glass. “To our new life! May it bring us opportunities to make our wishes and dreams come true!”
I popped a piece of pineapple into my mouth. I could taste freedom in each juicy bite.

Equal Opportunity, Please! by Nadia Flores (Mentor: Susan Holbrook)

May 27th, 2009. It was an ordinary day. Some of my friends started working at the greenhouse at 6 a.m. One of them realized that the police were there, but the supervisor, a Salvadorian man, said that was normal. They never imagined the ordeal they were about to suffer. They were taken with their hands and ankles cuffed. They went to jail…for working.
My name is Nadia and I am Mexican. I have been working in a foreign country for at least seven months, on tomato, cucumber and pepper farms and also in some warehouses. These are not easy jobs. Sometimes I work 14 hours a day and every day I deal with language problems, with supervisors who do not like me, with people from my own country getting into trouble, and with bigoted people—this is the hardest thing, to deal with people who believe that I am doing a job that they are capable of doing, but don’t because it’s beneath them. They think they are better than us, but I do not know in what way. The only difference is that we were not born in the same country.
Every day I have to wake up at five o’clock or earlier. A few minutes later somebody picks me up, so I have to be ready. They pick me up in vans; some of them are in really bad condition and most of the time there are at least twelve people in a van made for six or seven passengers. Imagine how cramped and dangerous that is. There are people from other countries and every one of us looks at each other, because we have not seen each other before. Every worker carries a lunch bag and wears special clothes for working. So do I. The first working day I felt that something was wrong. I did not feel comfortable and everything looked so confusing and I started asking myself Why I am here? Why did I leave my family? Why did I leave my country? Why did I leave everything? There is just one answer: money. I want to improve my way of life.
As an immigrant I have to stand racism and discrimination in all kinds of places. For example, in my area some of the banks and stores have signs that read “Do not even think of stealing” or “Leave your bags at the desk before entering the store.” These signs are in Spanish only. This kind of racism and discrimination is really surprising and unfortunate, especially in a well-developed country.
If we get sick we are not able to buy medication. If somebody steals our money we cannot go to the police. If we get injured while working nobody is responsible. That is our reality every day; we do not have rights in a foreign country because we are illegal people. So, we try not to get sick and we have to take care of the people around us. We worry about our illegal status. Ironically, most of the time it will be a person from Latin America who reports to Immigration about an undocumented worker.
Last time I saw Immigration was at a flower farm. I was working and then somebody said that the police were there. Two friends and I ran away as fast as we could, but some were not lucky like us. I remember how they were taken and it is really sad to see how good people are taken with their hands and ankles cuffed like killers or robbers. They weren’t even resisting. They went to jail like criminals and had to wear uniforms. How is it possible? We are like everybody else: We do not make trouble, we do not steal, we work, we are here because we have to support our families. If we go to jail, our families suffer from hunger. Often they depend solely on us. This is happening in a well-developed country: Canada.
According to the Canadian Humans Rights Act, its purpose is “to extend the laws in Canada to give effect… to the principle that all individuals should have an opportunity equal with other individuals to make for themselves the lives that they are able and wish to have and to have their needs accommodated, consistent with their duties and obligations as members of society, without being hindered in or prevented from doing so by discriminatory practices based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability or conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been granted”.
If this applies to all humans in Canada, the question is this: Are illegal workers not human?
People of Canada, we are humans like you!! We just want an opportunity to improve our lives. There are hundreds of thousands of undocumented workers in Canada; most are doing jobs nobody else wants to do, yet they face many barriers if they want to become citizens. We need government support and we are able to work. All we need is a chance.

The Canadian Dream by Entesar Ansari (Mentor: Alison Gillmor)

When I first arrived in Winnipeg in 2001, having travelled from Tehran with my two sons, six-year-old Mohammad and eight-year-old Ali, I spoke very little English. At the Winnipeg airport, a representative from the International Centre, who did not speak Arabic, greeted us. After quite a bit of convincing, we got into a car with him and were driven to a temporary housing facility. We arrived late at night and went right to bed. When I woke up the next morning, I looked out the window and saw a small garden with gravestones. I suddenly remembered a horror movie I’d seen as a teenager in Iraq, about a group of young men who escape from their country only to fall into the hands of criminals who kill them and sell their organs. I was so disoriented by the long journey and midnight arrival that I was sure we were next.
We weren’t, of course, and over the next few weeks a counsellor introduced me to Canadian culture and helped me adjust to this new life. I also met some fellow Iraqis. During this time Mohammad became ill with a very high fever. One of the Iraqi immigrants with a slightly higher knowledge of English called 911 and told them there was “a boy on fire.” Within five minutes we were surrounded by police, paramedics and firefighters! I went with my son in an ambulance to the hospital — he had influenza but soon recovered — and then realized I didn’t know the address or even the name of the facility where we were staying, so I didn’t know how to get back. I had to call one of the Iraqi ladies I’d met. She and her family kindly took us in and later helped us get an apartment in the same building. I will be forever grateful for their help.
My kids began going to school, and so did I. Mohammad and Ali went to elementary school, while I went to classes with other newcomers to learn English. I soon found out that my sons were learning much faster than I was. After a few months, they would help me communicate when we went out.
I also had to learn to do everyday things like shopping for food. It was still hard to get around an unfamiliar city, especially speaking a new language, and when I left the apartment I would always carry a friend’s phone number in my purse, just in case. My counsellor suggested I buy groceries at the superstore down the road from my school. She drew me a map and told me that the building was painted green. Every time I saw a green building, I would ask the bus driver, “Is this the superstore?”
My counsellor went over some basic English so I could ask questions and make simple transactions at the store. I had to figure out what items were what. Sometimes I would buy something and then find out it was not all right for me to eat because of Halal laws. I also learned how to save money by buying in bulk, using coupons and looking in the newspaper for sales. “Watch the wall when you go in,” my counsellor would say, explaining about in-store specials.
The last year has been a very happy one for my family. I finished my certification as a teacher’s assistant — I now work part-time as a preschool teacher and have started on an education degree at the University of Winnipeg. My older son is in his final year of high school, preparing to go on to university, and my younger son is working hard in grade 10.
We’ve come a long way in eight years. Now I’m giving new immigrants advice about shopping. People call me and I tell them how to get good children’s shoes at a good price, or how to wait for after-Christmas and July sales for clothes. I’ve worked hard — to learn English, to learn about the culture, to get a good job and support my kids, and to be a good citizen. One thing I’ve learned about Canada is that education and hard work pay off. That’s the Canadian dream, and it’s my dream, too.

Making it Through by Kiki Cater (Mentor: Anne Fenn)

Do you believe that everything happens for a reason? That people change so that you can learn to let go? Do you think the reason that you believe lies is so that you eventually learn who you can and cannot trust, or that good things sometimes fall apart so that better things can fall together? I believe this not only for my own experience, but because I’ve seen so many people go through hardships and overcome them. Life is about taking chances and learning from your mistakes. Those hard times that you’ve been through aren’t there to slow you down, or stop you in your tracks. They are there to make you stronger and help you to learn. If you don’t ever take those chances and make mistakes in your life, you may never know how to tend to them when they happen to you.
When I was younger, I didn’t listen to my mom, I didn’t go to school. I did what I wanted, when I wanted. Although I do regret the way I talked to my mother, I don’t regret any of the choices I made in my life even though some of them weren’t exactly the best. I moved out of my mom’s when I was 15 years old. I moved in with my aunt and uncle, but along with everything else that I was screwing up in my life, living there with them was just another one of those things. That lasted for a whole summer. Next thing I know I’m living in a room of a house with my best friend Jenn, that she had been renting. She is my guardian angel and one of the only people in my life that has always been there for me. School became a last priority for me. As far as I could tell, I was living the life. I partied every day, didn’t work. Stealing food and clothes from the stores was my way of survival. Everything seemed to be going great, but that didn’t last very long either. Eventually, the people we were living with got fed up with our ways and moved. With them being gone we couldn’t afford to live there so our next step: eviction! Seeing as we weren’t working, we didn’t have any money to get a place and couldn’t go back home because we left off on bad terms with our parents. We slept in staircases for months on end, showering at whoever’s house we could find at that moment. Finally we got sick of feeling like we were nothing and did something for ourselves. I don’t even know how we did it, but we ended up getting an apartment of our own and slowly built our very own comfortable home.
Although things seemed to be looking better for us on the outside, on the inside things had gone right back to where they started. Again, I wasn’t working. Not because I couldn’t, but because I just didn’t want to. I would rather sit at home and do nothing with myself, hanging out with my friends, than get up early every morning and go to work. Once again, we were in the process of getting evicted. Since running away from my problems was what I was good at, that’s exactly what I did. My boyfriend, Shane, and I moved up north to a small town called Meaford. My mother had lived up there, so now, being on better terms, we went to live with her. I tried to go back to school, but it just wasn’t working out for me. I didn’t want to live with my mom; therefore, I once again dropped out of school and got myself a full- time job working at McDonalds. I know, McDonalds, right? Everyone’s last choice, but a job nevertheless. Finally we moved out into our own place. I was working, my boyfriend was working. Everything was going great, but of course, story of my life: “take three steps forward and fall five steps back.” So, obviously once again I’m not working and we’re about to get evicted. We ended up moving in with my god sister on the other side of town. Within a few months of living there we find out I’m pregnant! The question now was do I go through with it? Can I go through with it? The way I see it, you don’t have a choice. We were the ones who made it happen so now we had to deal with it. But was I mad? No. I couldn’t have been happier! I was scared and didn’t even know where my life was going to be in the next few months, but I just knew for some reason things were going to start looking up for me.
On February 13th, 2007, at 12:04 p.m., a beautiful little boy weighing 7 pounds 6 ounces, and the pride and joy of my life, was born. Let me just tell you, to look at your child for the first time ever, there aren’t even any words to describe it. It is the absolute best feeling you could possibly imagine. To know that they’re all yours and the love you have for them is like no other feeling. You know from that moment on, your life will never be the same. Whatever happens to you in your life after doesn’t even matter because at the end of the day, you have something so important to look forward to. It is an unbreakable bond between mother and child, and the love that you share makes you want to be so much better and makes you so much stronger. I stayed home with my son for the first year of his life then realized, I have really got to start doing something with myself. I want to give my son the life I never had and before I can better him, I have to better myself. I got a job part-time and went back to school for my G.E.D. I feel so much better about myself and the way my life is heading. I finished my program, wrote my exams; I get up every morning for work and I’m moving on with my life. I walked away from all the people in my life who were only bringing me down and surrounded myself with nothing but positive people who want nothing more for me than for me to see myself succeed. Not for anyone else but myself. I do not regret anything in life, I only regret the things I didn’t do when I had the chance. I am making up for my mistakes now. I’m stronger and wiser and I don’t let anything in life bring me down.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that no matter what has happened to you there is always a way of overcoming it. You as a person are powerful beyond belief and can do whatever you want in life as long as you set your mind to it and have that motivation to do better. Look at all the bad that’s happened to you and think of it as the start of something good. I’ve been through so much in my life and I was able to accomplish my goals. I have a very smart and healthy little boy who just keeps growing bigger and smarter every day. He is the reason I am able to go on and work that much harder to get to where I want to be. Even though not all of you have a child to help you, you can still do it. Just remember that when you work hard at something it will all pay off for you in the end.

Finding My Place by Hitomi Shiraishi (Mentor: Gail Anderson-Dargatz)

I came to Canada in September of 2004 from Kumamoto, Japan. I have been living in Vancouver since then, and I love this city and its people.
I worked as a preschool teacher in Japan, taking care of children up to six years old. I was very busy planning child care everyday, along with the annual events including the school trip, the star festival, the summer festival, the sports day, the school play and the Christmas party. When I took charge of the six–year-old’s class, I taught reading, writing, Japanese drum, calligraphy, pottery and ensemble.
Even though I was very tired, the children’s smiles made me happy and I enjoyed my work. I liked playing with toys or playing tag with the children better than teaching them, because when we played the children had big smiles and had fun. The children always came up to me smiling, saying, “Teacher, teacher.” There were times when I wasn’t happy, but when I saw their faces, I didn’t feel down anymore. I thought, This is the special medicine! A child has a pure heart, and a supple mind that is like a mirror to my own. A child reflects my mind and I reflect the child’s.
I once taught a three-year-old boy who cried a lot every morning when his mother left him with me at preschool. At first it was hard for me to take him from his mother because he was averse to coming to preschool and he resisted. But I tried to smile for him every morning and I showed him my mind that I was waiting for him. “Welcome,” I said. “Here is your place.”
“No,” was all he said.
The next day I greeted him again. “Good morning,” I said cheerfully, but he didn’t say anything. Nevertheless I continued to offer him a smile and he changed little by little. One day he brought his favorite toy from his house to show to me. In this way, he started to open his mind. Finally he came to preschool with his big smile and greeting. His smile made everyone happy. It was like he found his place.
When I moved to Canada, I was like this boy, stepping hesitantly into a new life. I was leaving my family and friends, and my language. I couldn’t speak English well even though I was very interested in living outside of Japan. Everything here was new to me.
I was impressed with the beauty and moods of nature here. When I looked up into space, there was a huge sky and the scent of the air was yummy fresh green, the smell of pine. The sky felt wider than in Japan. That made me feel free.
I only had a working-holiday visa so I was supposed to go back to Japan after I had lived in Canada for one year. But I found and answered an advertisement online after I had spent two months in Canada: A Canadian family was looking for a full-time babysitter for their child who was an 18-month-old boy. When I met the family, I had the impression that they were very nice and gentle, as they were smiling and soft-spoken. They made me feel welcome even though we were a little bit tensed up because we didn’t know each other. The parents were both working and they wanted somebody to take care of their child with affection and honesty, because they thought children learn by imitating their babysitter. I agreed and I told them about my experiences as a preschool teacher. I told them I like to play music and make handcrafts with children, and that I like the children to play outside spiritedly. I told them I think a child needs to have a lot of experiences because a child has infinite interest.
As we talked the father was holding his child on his knee. Suddenly the boy walked toward to me and he gave me a kiss. The parents hired me on the spot.
I started work in December and took the boy to see some Christmas illuminations. There were big Christmas trees, snowmen, snow made from cotton, and reindeer. They were brilliant and the boy’s eyes sparkled. He wanted to touch everything, but it was not allowed. I explained and he understood. He stared fixedly at them for a long time.
Starting my new life here in Canada was as brilliant for me as this Christmas display was for this boy.

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