Support Children in Poverty Struggling to Learn during COVID-19
Photo above: Story Garden, Gallup Market, New Mexico, USA, 2019 © ATD Fourth World
“There is no alternative: either we go in search of those in poverty or the world fails. Without the most disadvantaged, the world is mute.”
Joseph Wresinski, Founder ATD Fourth World
“The Story Garden made me see that my family is also a garden.”
Saturday in the town of Gallup, New Mexico is market day. Families come from far away. Children accompany their parents or grandparents. Waking at dawn, they travel the long distances that separate their homes in the Navajo people’s sacred mountains from Gallup.
Erick, a young Navajo man, runs the “Story Garden” in the center of the market. Every week, a crowd of children of all ages gathers around the colorful trailer with a large extended awning.
As soon as she arrives, Lisa rushes to her favorite book and starts reading. Her grandmother can’t believe it. Neither can her teacher. “Lisa has made incredible progress,” she says. “Now she raises her hand to ask questions, when before she said absolutely nothing.” Lisa’s grandmother adds, “Lisa always says her mind goes faster than her lips.” Reading calms Lisa down. “Before, her reading level was low,” says Erick. “But now she reads so much better.”
A mother joins the conversation. “When the kids showed off their archaeological exhibit at school,” she says, “my son was so proud to talk about what he knew!”
- “The Story Garden made me see that my family is also a garden,” says one father. “And cultivating it is a lot of responsibility. I really wanted my kids to learn even though we were having problems. At ATD Fourth World we want to encourage other families who are struggling so they can stay strong and keep moving forward.”
The Story Garden in Gallup opened in 2012. By 2019, more than 850 children attended. But then Covid-19 arrived and the market had to close. What to do? For Erick, the Story Garden is precious because it connects isolated families. Some do not have running water. Many do not have internet. Hospitals are far away and buying gasoline for travel is a daily worry.
Erick insisted that the Story Garden consult with those who attend. “They know better than us what to do,” he says. “Don’t let the Story Garden down,” one mom told them. “It’s the most beautiful thing that happens in children’s lives.” A father was also encouraging:
- “You are always there. We saw that even when there was rain and mud, you were there. You didn’t just come in good weather when you felt like it. It shows the kids that we have to do things we are committed to.”
Erick understands perfectly. “Families have to be able to count on us,” he says. “This loyalty is the key to overcoming poverty.” So Erick’s team reinvented the Story Garden. Now it travels, criss-crossing the region. Since all equipment has to be disinfected because of Covid-19, the Story Garden team takes only a book or two and some paint. What has been happening surprises them: the children seem to concentrate better, and they show more cooperation.
At the start of this year, schools remained closed and education continues to be online. To support the children they know, the ATD team prints their homework for them. The team knows that the longer normal schooling is interrupted, the more difficult it will be for the children who come to Story Garden to stay on their educational path. The team can also see distance learning making the children and their families even more cut off from other people and the world.
Because he knows these children really do want to learn and experience the world, Erick tries to help them stay on the path to education. “Their home is where they are now,” he says, “but we also have to show them that the world is a big place and it can be beautiful.”
This holiday season, I think about all the children around the world who have not been able to return to school for whatever reason. I think about those who can’t keep up with distance learning or children who want to go back to school but can’t because of Covid-19.
This year more than ever our teams are facing new challenges. They are learning to adapt and be creative so that those living in poverty can reach their goals.
In Gallup, the team has plans to remodel a van so the Story Garden can travel more easily and stay connected to children in poverty. In other places, staying in touch with children in poverty will look different. In all the countries where we work, your donation will help us develop these new projects.
Thank you for your support. We wish you happy holidays.
Isabelle Pypaert Perrin
Director General ATD Fourth World