by Gina Dettmer
Six year-old Sofia’s school day is over by ten thirty, the same time that most kids in the States are just settling into their first lesson. “Did you enjoy your classes?” I ask her as I sit down to breakfast at her family’s restaurant. “¡Sí!” she says. She looks up at me shyly, which must be on account of her new school uniform because she is usually no longer timid around me. Then she runs off to change. When she returns she is carrying a book for us to read.
Sofia knows what most kids her age know and only adults have begun to forget: that learning is a lot of fun. It’s no noble determination that sets Sofia inquiring how to say silla and mesa and vaso in English; it’s fun to try the flavor of new words on your tongue, to give a duel life to your chair or cup. She is just on the brink of discovering reading, I just know it. In a week or two, perhaps by the time you read this post, she will have realized that the letters she knows so well can be sounded out into words, words that will open up new worlds of learning. We practice sounding out syllables while sipping batidos at one of the tables. Perhaps I will be there the day that “per” and “ro” suddenly come to signify the furry tail-wagging animal.
Sofia lives in a wonderfully loving family, I know, as I have been blessed to be a recipient of their kindness. She colors in coloring books and makes mud pies while her mom, aunt, and cousin cook, wait tables, and chat with customers. In the evenings she goes to the beach with Carlos, to the fiestas with her parents. When I sit down at their restaurant with a book in hand, Carlos says to his little cousin, “Go sit down with Gina and learn something.” And she’s not shy to ask. “How do you say book in English? What do the letters on the front mean?” If I order a batido I can be sure that another six-year-old size glass will be brought out alongside mine, filled with whatever flavor smoothie I happened to have ordered.
Sofia is such a blessed child, such a bright child, that it is difficult to comprehend that no matter what her parents or anyone else may wish for her, she will only attend some 85 days of school this year and for only a few hours at a time. So I want to simply say thank you—thank you to Abriendo Mentes for providing Sofia with opportunities every afternoon to learn more, thank you to those who send money overseas to support this learning, and thank you to the volunteers who come here on faith to learn with the kids. Somewhere on the Pacific shore of Costa Rica, tucked away between jungle and beach, a little girl is on the brink of learning how to read.