A ukulele, a couple of flying discs, and a handful of Spanish phrases. That’s all Eleanor Patten needed to wrangle 40 young students inside a Dominican batey, a settlement where sugar cane cutters live in a shanty-town camp. Her students laughed and played, and challenged Patten with their language skills. No older than 7, many of them spoke in sentences sprinkled with English, Spanish, and Haitian Creole.
“Guys, come over here! ¡Chicos, ven aquí! Vin isit la!”
On her flight back to Boston, Patten, who graduated in May with a degree in political science and business, felt something nagging at her. She remembered Robert, a Haitian refugee her age who could speak six languages, but needed to work two jobs to go to school. She couldn’t help but think: Robert had all the talent, but none of the opportunity. And she wondered if her limited Spanish skills had hindered her ability to connect with the students during the weeklong volunteering stint.