My standards for twelve year olds are low. I base them off my own career, which was quite grim: fights with my mother over PG-13 movies (all my friends were allowed to see Pearl Harbor in theatres, why couldn’t I) and drama over my choreographed dance routine for my sixth grade graduation. If you were to look back at my schoolwork from this time, you would notice that I still hadn’t mastered my “theres” and certainly didn’t know how to spell definitely. So, though I know that we do fund a handful of twelve year-olds, I tend to think of all our students as sixteen, the age where I might have felt capable of applying to a scholarship program or been allowed to walk hours to school by myself.
Meeting our students in February forced me to reevaluate. The truth is, that of our sixteen scholars, nine are under the age of sixteen and four of those students are twelve. And the twelve year-olds in the group are tiny. Like, really small. So small that when Ana Melisa arrived at the ceremony after our initial round of introductions and was asked to state her name, age and community to our group of forty, I wanted to jump up and say that for her it just wasn’t necessary.
Ana Melisa had a different idea. She turned to the group, squared her shoulders, took a deep breath, and in a guided, calm voice, spoke. She provided the necessary information with true poise, and then went on, conveying her thanks to our group and stating her happiness to be at the ceremony that day. My jaw was on the floor. Twelve-year olds. Go figure.
When we arrived back in Panama City, Brooks, Tim, Katie and I spoke with the current SIT students about Few For Change. One of the first questions we received was about how we were able to make funding decisions based off applications completed by twelve-year olds. I recounted the story of Ana Melisa.
Though Ana Melisa might be the coolest twelve-year old ever, this shouldn’t be a requirement to finish high school. Any twelve-year old, whether they are a star-student or are more concerned with the cute boy in the class across the hall, has this right. And it's our goal with Few for Change to make this happen. We're starting small, sometimes literally, and growing a program that helps the vibrant, beautiful Ngäbe-Buglé community help themselves. Ana Melisa does not have the resources to finish high school without our assistance but I'm more than confident her children will.