by Anne O’Hagan

Five p.m. on a Tuesday, mid-winter. I’m sitting in the basement of St. Cyril’s Macedonian Orthodox Church in Regent Park in downtown Toronto. Teenagers drift in – by turns chatty, solemn, effusive, shy. Quickly they shed their coats to colonize the bare beat-up tables with all their energy, attitude and personal effects (mostly phones). The room is bathed in a flat fluorescent light.

This is where I spend every Tuesday afternoon during the school year, tutoring high school kids whose worlds couldn’t be more different from my own. “Do you do History?” they ask. “Do” is what they call it. Yes, I say. With tutoring, I’ll take on anything. What do I have to lose? English, French, history, law, social sciences (just not my phobia subject: math).

So this is how I’ve come to read Romeo and Juliet with a 14-year-old Afghan girl, written Platonic dialogue with a 17-year-old (who had to Google Aristotle first), edited essays composed by children for whom English is a fifth language. East Indian, African, Asian kids, all new Canadians, trying to find purchase in this steep, craggy uphill scramble of life.

There are kids whose ADD is worse than their English, kids who’d really rather talk about my hair and bright ones who know exactly why they’re there. If they boost their grades and qualify for a scholarship, they get a ticket out of Dodge.

To this, people react with admiration. Remarkable, they say. Every week? So generous. In Regent Park? Wow. But here’s the thing: it’s a two-way street. For every minute of my time I give these kids, unknowingly, they pay me back. Their currency is insight, appreciation, hope. These kids open my eyes, keep me sharp, make me smile. I see myself more clearly in this environment, surrounded by children who have no idea of their present and future power. That’s what “giving” is to me. I give to feel more like myself.

Anne O’Hagan is a writer, communications strategist and book collaborator in Toronto. This piece was originally published by