Inspired to Learn

Give to the wise, and he is wiser still, Make known to the righteous, And he increaseth learning.-Proverbs 9:9

The three were of the same age. I did not notice this before for some reason. I had shown them a brochure about an upcoming movie festival with a free screening of classic and modern Italian directors. Lucas was interested. He is in his third year in Psychology and some of the movies being screened were discussed in his class. Victor, on the hand, never heard of any the directors or the movies. He has been focusing on seminary studies until recently taking a break from studies to decide what he wants to do. Bruno was the only one among the three who had watched some of the movies in the list. He also knew most of the directors and their works. Among them was the famous “The Bicycle Thief” by the director, Vittorio de Sica. I have never seen the movie but Bruno has. He did not like it. I asked why and he said that there was too much hype about the movie which it did not live up to. I know the story because it is a movie all movie buffs like to talk about. Frankly speaking, I never found it interesting enough to watch. Bruno related the basic plot-line to Lucas and Victor who have never even heard of this movie. It was strange to see all three of them standing next to each other discussing movies. They were the same age but all three from different social classes. Lucas comes from an upper middle class family. Victor’s family is also middle class and Bruno lives in the streets. All three have the desire to learn. Only two have family and friends to inspire and motivate them to pursue their desires. Bruno has been in the streets since he was sixteen. He has no contact with his family and he never talks about them. He is on his own when it comes to self-improvement. No family is going to stand behind in his pursuits. Yet, all these disadvantages have not stifled his desire to learn.

Bruno is always dressed the same. I mean this literally. He has been using his same polo shirt for a few months and it is torn and tattered. It is covered with so much dirt that we cannot recognize its original color. His hands and feet are covered with dirt. He carries an equally filthy blanket with him all the time. I gave him one of my polo shirts which he accepted gleefully. However, he never used it. He kept it in his bag pack which he is never seen without. In it, he keeps perhaps his most precious possession; an old tattered note book. It contains the names of all the movies he has seen or would like to see. The movies are mostly American and their names have been translated into Portuguese. However, Bruno wants to know their original names in English. He makes Mary translate the names back into English. It seems like he invented this method for learning English and we are impressed how far he has come. It is safe to say that Bruno is by far the most intelligent homeless young adult we have met. No one would guess it by looking at him. Most people would just see a homeless young man. However, when you spend some time with him, you will discover an extremely intelligent and interesting young man.

He is able to speak intelligently about movies and politics. He formulates his ideas in a logical manner and his vocabulary is very impressive. We are always amazed about the things he knows. He can tell us about Virginia Woolf and the books she has written. He likes to watch movies that most twenty year olds would find uninteresting. One of his favorite movies is Sophie’s Choice and he explained in detail the story to me. Lucas and Victor stood there and just listened. They too were astounded by his impressive knowledge. It is not just limited to movies. He could also explain the present political situation lucidly. He also able to see beyond the rhetoric and identify political maneuvers of partisan politics. When we asked him where he got his information, he told us that he reads different newspapers that are discarded at the local stores. In this way, he has access to several different news agencies.

Bruno sniffs paint thinner more than the other children or teens. He uses about half a liter a day according to him and we believe it. The only time he says that he doesn’t use it is when he is watching a movie or when he is with us. I guess the movie is a form of escape which takes away the need for chemical substance. It has been recently that he stopped sniffing in our presence. I used to have a hard time trying to get him to stop while doing an activity and he would just leave our group instead. He used to prefer paint thinner over our company. Thankfully, things have changed. We enjoy talking with him now and he always has a big smile for us whenever he sees us. The smile is always followed by a question about something he read or heard.

Bruno has never asked anything from us. Even when he was hurt, he did not ask Mary to do first aid. However, recently he asked if we could buy him a English-Portuguese dictionary. I had an old one in the house and I gave it to him. He received it happily and hugged us. This is unusual for him. We think that his filthy attire is a defense mechanism to avoid physical contact. Therefore, the embrace coming from him was a little bit more special.

Bruno is often seen with Ruan and Felipe. About a week ago, Ruan asked us if he could teach him to read and write. We were a little surprised. We had not realized that Ruan was illiterate. When I read the letter from a person in Florida, I translated it for him. Then when I asked him whether he wanted to write to this person one day, he nodded without saying anything. I remembered that his face lit up when I said that I would help him. However, I did not realize then that he did know how to read or write. Ruan comes from one of the worst neighborhoods in the center. I can’t say much about the schools in the area because I don’t know them. It would be unfair to judge the whole school based on Ruan. We know that he went to school for a few years before running away to the streets. Now he wants to learn to read and write but sending him back to the school is not going to help him. We told him that we will try to find a place where there is literacy program. He said that he was willing to start right away. Bruno was sitting next to him throughout this conversation. He said that Ruan has been asking him to teach him. Bruno does not feel confident to get him started.

Not too long after, Felipe asked us if we could help him with his writing. He said that he was not confident in writing and wanted to practice. It was the first time Felipe asked anything of this sort. All this happened in a short period of time. Suddenly three of our homeless teens are inspired to learn and study. I saw Felipe watching Mary one day as she was writing some notes for some of the children. They remarked that she had beautiful handwriting. Ruan received a letter from someone in Florida. Perhaps the idea of writing to someone contributed to this desire to learn. He also observes how much pleasure Bruno has whenever he shares the things he learns with us and is able to ask intelligently about things he does not know. All these things could have contributed to this newfound interest in learning. They have discovered a context in which learning is useful. If we told them that education would guarantee a better future, they would agree with us but they would most likely do nothing about it. They don’t think about their future much. They are not convinced that education is going guarantee a good future. However, they care about relationship. They see that our relationship with Bruno is growing because there is a deeper exchange between us and Bruno. They want to move beyond playing games and coloring books. Perhaps Bruno has shown that learning can enhance a relationship and make it richer. I believe that they are becoming more interested in learning because they want to be connected in a deeper way with us and the other people with whom they come into contact. Unfortunately, schools have reduced education into something utilitarian. Whereas Bruno wants to learn for the sole purpose of discovering new and wonderful things so that he could share them with those whom he cares for and loves. Ruan and Felipe saw this and now they desire to discover the joy of learning for the sake of learning.

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5 thoughts on “Inspired to Learn

  1. It seems our Lord is working slowly, perhaps as it should be, in the lives of those His Holy Spirit wishes to enlighten. Ruan and Felipe have observed a relationship of which they would like to be a part. Entry into that relationship means they must adapt by learning how to relate at a more profound level. Yes or no answers are not relevant when others can explain why they say yes or no. Is a “day” of creation 24 hours, a 1000 years or one second? A priest we know told me on one occasion, “God is outside of time so it is all the same to Him.” Abide awhile longer then.
    I’ll pray for enlightenment for Ruan, Felipe and Bruno, also for you and, especially for me.
    God bless ❤️🙏🏾

  2. Is this a different child from Breno or are they one and the same? May God bless them all.

  3. Dear Fr. Stephen & Mary:

    The stories of these 3 young men is very inspiring. Humankind responds to genuine love and concern and the two younger boys are inspired by the relationship they have observed between you and Bruno. His love is inspired through you and Mary and the relationships you build with the children. May God continue to bless and keep you safe and continue working through you as you encounter and develop relationships with “God’s little ones”.

    In His Love,
    Dotti Pohleven

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