In my work with Roma children at the after-school roma mission of the RCH, called YOU + ME, it’s taken me a while to fully integrate. I’ve been there for almost five months now and the kids are finally starting to feel comfortable around me — they know who I am, they expect to see me on a daily basis, we do crafts together, they ask me for help if they’re having a problem (sometimes I can understand what they’re saying / miming, and sometimes I have to go ask a multi-lingual adult to help translate for me), and overall we all get along quite well.
This has been an amazing journey, getting to know these kids, and in the last week I have become even closer with a couple of them. Over the past two months, there are two boys around nine years old who will come in on a pretty regular basis for the evening activities we have (they never come early for homework help, but they always want to show up and play games and do crafts with us). When a whole group of their friends comes with them they occasionally start trouble, but overall they’re just adorable kids who want love and attention like any other.
This was extremely apparent a week ago when I was playing a card game with a group of children, including them. I was losing pretty badly and one of the boys played a great card. He was standing next to me and I pulled him over with one arm to give him a quick half hug. He curled his arms around mine and held on, prolonging the hug, and grinned up at me in the most adorable way. After we let go, I looked up and the other boy was watching us with a sense of longing for that kind of simple physical affection, so I waved him over and gave him a huge hug too.
What started as an impromptu congratulatory hug has now turned into a regular occurrence whenever I’m at the center — I get at least three hugs from each of them anytime I’m working there and it’s absolutely perfect. These kids that I work with are just like any other; they crave the same things like love, attention, and support, but they don’t always get it at home or in their school environment. Positive attention and reinforcement of good behavior is not always given to these children, and so it’s up to the amazing staff at YOU + ME to fill in where need be. In my case, that’s spending time with these two boys and working with them on their English, playing card games with them that I’m terrible at, and giving lots and lots of hugs — a job that I’m quite happy to do.