By Sarah Johnson
One of my favorite aspects of accompaniment is the opportunity to see the impact that walking with someone can have on the way in which they view themselves. At Taller de José, we hope that one of our outcomes includes increased confidence in the clients and communities with which we work. Although it can be difficult to demonstrate this with numbers and tangible results, the anecdotal and qualitative ones often speak for themselves.
I recently accompanied a client, Adriana*, to her child’s elementary school. She had scheduled this appointment because she was concerned with her child’s progress in school and wanted to speak with someone in order to see what steps she could be taking to support him. Adriana was very anxious about the appointment, so she sought out accompaniment from Taller de José as she has done in the past. Throughout our previous appointments together regarding other situations, we have developed a natural and easy rapport. I have seen first-hand the strength and dedication she possesses as a single mother, despite the many obstacles that come her way; I try to tell her often what a wonderful example she is to her children. With humble resilience she always responds the same way: a small smile and a shrug while saying “Sólo hay que seguir adelante, Sarita” (“We just have to keep pressing on, Sarah”).
On this particular day, Adriana was to meet with an English-speaking administrator; as English is not her native language, she was seeking my support to help her if necessary. Through our conversation, I could tell how worried she was for her son, and likewise how desperate she was to find guidance from his school. I likewise was nervous – as I knew this situation was important for the wellbeing of both Adriana and her son, I wanted to provide as much emotional support as possible in order to help her feel prepared and in control of the meeting. As we chatted on our way to the school, I tried to reassure her by saying that I understood all too well the discomfort and frustration that comes with learning a second language. Adriana told me she wanted to try to take the lead in the meeting in English – she asked that I be there just in case she didn’t understand something or if she needed help expressing herself. She was even trusting enough to graciously ask me to jump in and advocate for her if I thought there was anything worth adding, saying, “You understand these things… you were a student more recently than me!”
Throughout the meeting, I was impressed by her composition and how she articulated herself. Adriana was able to communicate all of her concerns to the administrator, and they had a very productive conversation about her son’s education with very little intervention needed from me. Afterwards I told her how fantastic her English was, especially considering how nervous she had been beforehand. She denied my praise as usual, but I noticed she held her head high and began to walk a little taller.
On our way back from the train, I told Adriana that I needed to pick something up for lunch, so we walked to a nearby restaurant to get food to go. As we stepped up to the counter to order, the cashier looked at us confusedly from one to the other and finally asked “Español?… or English?” Adriana glanced over at me with a smile and was quick to say “No importa, hablamos los dos… it doesn’t matter, we speak both!” The confidence and ease to her response brought me a sense of happiness. While it was a simple, passing remark, I am not sure if she would have said this before our accompaniment that morning. Just the other day she let me know that she had met with the administrator once again, this time all on her own. While it can be difficult to quantify the impact that the work of Taller de José has on individuals, the power of accompaniment is undeniable when I see clients like Adriana become empowered, finally viewing themselves to be as capable as they really are.
*Names and details have been altered in order to preserve client’s privacy