Wandering down Main Street in the winter of 2020-21 was an exercise of isolation. A scene more closed than open, I was pleasantly surprised by the effort of the Umatilla County Special Library District. Such an inviting window display of popup children's books was a welcome sight that caused me to reflect on the simple joy of seeing them. The affect of these images popping from the page made me think of the isiZulu greeting I had learned while serving in KwaZulu-Natal a few years before….”Sawbona”, the equivalent of “I see you” gave such meaning to any encounter that its significance had stayed with me. “Sawbona”, I thought, to these little books that literally jumped from the page to achieve that very outcome of being seen. This pleasant curation of all the books to choose from was not lost on me that day. (Check out their programming-it’s wonderful: https://www.ucsld.org/take-off-a-preschool-learning-outreach-program).
There is a strong connection between my work with mentoring at Impact Pendleton and Sawbona. Every day that the mentors in our program connect with their mentees, they live out this greeting: “Sawbona, I see you”, by engaging in relationship building unique to that particular mentee's background, interest, and needs. The value of seeing is eloquently described by Dr. Wizdom Powell in her talk at the 2020 National Mentoring Summit, on the importance of mentoring for traumatized youth and the need for someone to say to them, “We see you”: https://youtu.be/EMZO
(about 8 minutes in, but don’t miss her powerful talk).
Engaging with youth in this individualized way creates ripples that were so well characterised by the author Jim Crace in his interview for The Atlantic. He explains the formative effect of his childhood experiences through analysis of an old English nursery rhyme: “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor”--you know the one. [“The Hidden Poetic Genius of an Old English Nursery Rhyme”] https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2013/03/the-hidden-poetic-genius-of-an-old-english-nursery-rhyme/274370/ The nuance of poetry vs prose that it represents opened the door to literature for him, and he points out through a reminiscence the way that interests like literature are formed in young people, “They’re formed by early encounters”, he says. As we recognize National Poetry Month in April, it is useful to consider the intersections he describes as a period of maximum potential for influence in the development of youth.
Reverend Roger Scholtz puts early development in a biblical context using text from Isaiah to illuminate Sawbona by noting that God sees us and cherishes us even in the womb! Listen to his sermons here, and never mind that he is a fellow South African (no bias here):
How encouraging to those giving a bit of their time to recognize the value God has placed on the mentee they are matched with. Mentors, your work stands out to me like those little popup scenes that brightened my winter day. “Sawbona!”
Learn More: www.globalonenessproject.org/library/interviews/sawubona
-Contributed by Suzanne Church, AmeriCorps Mentor Coordinator