She’s so little. So tiny. It’s hard to believe that I was once this small.
She’ll grow up. She’ll grow up and be someone’s best friend. She’ll be someone’s
first kiss. She’ll get overwhelmed and will cry and laugh and experience life in all its complications.
Or she won’t.
I’m sitting here, cross-legged in the dirt, with this beautiful little girl nestled in my lap. A few days ago I was worried about homework. About my vocabulary quiz that was coming up. About the guy with the wide brown eyes who doesn’t even know I exist. And now here she is. She’s running her little hands over the fabric of my skirt. I can feel every muscle in her legs move as she squirms.
She might not survive the year.
And I will never know. There are so many children here in the mountain village of Marbial, Haiti. So many whose screams are lost in the chaos and noise of a place the world has forgotten. I’ve been here just four days and already I’ve met hundreds of kids. Hundreds who poke their little fingers into my skin, tangle their hands in my light brown hair, and tug on my clothing until I scoop them up. They’ll forget me. I’ll forget things about them – how each of these separate individuals have their own unique smiles. But I won’t forget this feeling. It’s seared into every cell of my body. A tattoo I can never remove.
I often talk about The Reading Room, my family’s literacy project in Haiti. I can rattle off facts and figures I’ve been memorizing since the age of five. I spend hours trying to find the perfect children’s books online – those that not only will engage readers but also integrate values found in Haitian culture. I spend a lot of time listening and thinking. But I also put in my two cents. I’ve never been afraid to add my own ideas or constructively criticize the ideas of others.
I’m still a teenager. Although I spend a lot of time focused on Haiti, I also spend a lot of time doing other things. You can find me in the dance studio balancing at the barre. You can find me at the movies laughing with friends. You can find me hunched over submissions for my high school’s literary magazine. You can find me backstage marking up a script.
But you will never find the true me until you see me in Haiti. I’m not myself anywhere but there. I’m the real Sarah when I’m sitting cross-legged on the ground with a little hand wrapped in mine. I’m only her when I’m in the midst of a library, a library I helped create, a library that I put every fiber of my being into.
And I’m only her when I reach into my bag and pull out a little baby doll. I’m only her when I put it into the hands of the child I’m holding, a child who is exquisite. Then, as she takes the toy and smiles at its face, I’ve found myself. Everything else I’ve ever been is left behind. I’m a teenager, but one who will some day lead a nonprofit that will help thousands of children in the Third World learn to read.
My parents will never leave me jewels. Or a castle. I’ve long forgotten my childhood dream of discovering my secret identity as a princess. But it doesn’t matter. They’ve given me the most priceless gift in life. The gift of refusing to be silent.
Because maybe she’ll live.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.