On a mission to Guatemala two years ago, Elysia Martin was billeted in a remote area with a family that spoke K’iche’ and couldn‘t read or write. When she wrote in her journal at night, the children were fascinated.
“They were just leaning over my shoulders, in awe that I could put a thought down on paper and read something aloud to them.”
The 20-year-old finds the same joy of discovery in the children she works with at the Elmira Child Care Centre.
“Just last week I was sitting and reading a book with a kid, and being with them when they’re learning how to read and watch them sound out the alphabet and put together words…it’s so cool to be part of a kid’s life when they’re able to do that.”
When she stumbled upon an online contest asking people to make a video about what inspires them, Martin didn’t have to think long about what her entry would be.
“Every kid I’ve ever worked with inspires me,” Martin says in the video. “They’re in a state of discovering everything, everything they’re learning and seeing is for the first time because they’re so new in life … I just think there’s so much we can take from that as adults working with them.”
A youth group leader, camp counsellor and Sunday school teacher, Martin always knew she wanted to work with kids. She’s now in her first year of the early childhood education program at Conestoga College, and doing a work placement at the Elmira daycare facility. She’s thinking of becoming a primary teacher in the future, but right now she’s enjoying her courses so much they don’t feel like work.
“That’s a good feeling, to know that you’re in school for the right thing,” she said.
Martin noted that early childhood education is a field that doesn’t always get a lot of respect, because people don’t realize how important it is to a child’s growth and development.
“They have so much life and energy and personality when they’re little and you need to be there to just be a part of that growth,” she said.
After finishing high school, Martin enrolled in a travelling school program offered by the Canadian Mennonite University. She and 29 other students spent the first semester travelling from Winnipeg to British Columbia, and the second semester in Guatemala, helping with a range of community services along the way.
Martin admits to having the travelling bug – last May she backpacked across Europe with her older brother – but she’d like to combine travel with service to others.
“My dad says I have to get it out of me, but I knew I’m going to travel my whole life,” she laughs.
If she wins the $10,000 prize for the video contest, Martin plans to put some of the money toward school, but she’d also like to work in Africa for four or five months.
Her cousin Rachel Clark is in Kenya now, working in an orphanage, and Martin would like to do something similar, preferably working with kids. She’s also looking into teaching English as a second language, so she can bring useful skills with her.
“I think it’s important to stay there for a decent amount of time to build a relationship and make a difference,” she said. “Short-term mission stuff is important for your own [experience] but I think if you really want to affect other people, you have to stay for a decent amount of time.”