Madeline Surdacki, Street Ministry Intern
The sound of freshly sharpened pencils skating across blank pages echoes throughout the room, like a blade on freshly zambonied ice. Lips purse into meticulous grimaces while steady hands try to color within the lines, careful not to waste an inch of the 4x6 canvas. Feet scuff across the floor as erasers are torpedoed across the room and laughs are shared over mischievous sketches that most definitely do not fit the prompt’s criteria. In the middle of the chaos, one masterpiece jumps off the page, particularly coming to life. Slowly the edges are rounded, shapes are formed, and labels are given one by one: fine course adjustment knob, lens, body… the page could easily be mistaken for that of a textbook as the sketch is finished up.
The student proudly addresses the room with the confidence of a professor, introducing himself as Isaac Newton. He explains the importance of each part and how it contributes to the quality of the image. The rest of the room becomes transfixed on his lesson as it transitions from microscopes to the plant life cycle. His lesson comes all from memory, there is no textbook, not even a worksheet, because Isaac Newton is street smart.
In the hours I’ve spent in Eastleigh I have seen intelligence manifest itself in ways I’ve never experienced before. I’ve seen boys use a piece of string to tie up the ankles of their pant legs so that they don’t drag in the mud after a rainy weekend. I’ve watched smoke rise out of an almost invisible tunnel, a fire just deep enough that it doesn’t burn, but sustains a comfortable temperature. I’ve crouched in a chair made for a human half my size with three littles balanced on my lap, soaking up every line of the picture book cradled in my hands. I’ve witnessed a hunger for knowledge like never before, students hanging on my every word hoping to learn something new that afternoon. I have learned that street kids are some of the best inventors, engineers, architects, and emergency responders that inhabit our planet. Deprived of an access to education, these children have quite literally made a classroom in their backyard. They don’t have playgrounds, desks, or pencil pouches. Their idea of glue is nothing like Elmer’s. Their uniforms hardly resemble anything accepted as standard school attire. Yet, because these boys are street smart they have survived, and I get to be a witness of their brilliant existence.
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