Volunteering is a lot of work. Teaching is a lot of work. And work is a lot of work, especially when you barely speak the language, or have any past experience with the work you are doing. I’m learning this all the hard way, and I attempt to teach by the seat of my pants. My kids are amazing, but they are rambunctious, young, and mostly illiterate. It makes it really difficult to teach them a new language when they have yet to gain a firm grasp of their own.
There are two little kids here that have stolen my heart.
The first is Maricielo, a 1st grader at Segrado Corazon de Maria (my school on Tuesday and Thursdays). She isn’t in any of my classes, and I’m not entirely sure how I originally came to meet her, but she is so darling that I seek her out everyday for a hug. Being a photographer, I always try to make sure that I’m taking a million pictures of her to share with everyone back home, but then it becomes a game of how many pictures I can take without other girls getting jealous. There are thousands of kids in Patchecutec, all of which needing love – among many other life necessities – but for some reason she has completely stolen my heart. I try to work through the English numbers 1-10 with her during the short half-hour break at 10am, but her voice is so quiet and shy, I can barely hear if she’s speaking at all, nonetheless in English. At the beginning of each day, as I sit and watch the gym class before my first class of the day, she creeps up behind me and waits until I see her to do anything. It as if everyday she waits to see if I remember her from the days prior, and if I don’t, she’ll just walk away quietly without saying anything. Disappointed of course, but she would never go out of her way to be noticed. That’s not how life works in Patchecutec.
This attitude of hers absolutely drives me nuts, because her shyness is also why all of the other kids pick on her. For lack of a better comparison, she seems to be the runt of her little 1st grade classroom. Yesterday, during recess, another girl walked up to Maricielo and took her bottle of juice. No words, just actions. Maricielo didn’t even bat an eye. I on the other hand, was furious! In my broken Spanish, I encouraged Maricielo to get her juice back, but she is far too timid and soft spoken to take any action. So, like the grown up and overprotective person that I am, I got the juice back myself. It just broke my heart though to see her stand there, empty handed, when I knew that bag of juice was likely the only thing she could bring from home to have during recess. Combined with the milk and bread provided by the school, I wasn’t sure what else she’d be eating. She needed that juice and no one was going to pick on my baby girl. Even just thinking about it now, about to eat a full dinner with my American and British friends, it brings me to tears.
The other child that has completely blown me away is Johan, from Semillitas. Johan is everything to me on Mondays and Fridays, sometimes Wednesdays…and always in between. I honestly couldn’t tell you how old he is, something close to 2 years of age, but the reason he is at Semilltas is because he has almost no vision left in either of his eyes, and minimal mobility with his left hand. Being at Semillitas usually signifies that the children are mentally or physically handicapped, but in Johan’s case his disability was due to abuse he received from his father when just a baby. Unlike the others at the orphanage, Johan was born a perfectly perfect baby. 10 fingers. 10 toes. A big heart. All things that he still has, but without the ability to see them or use them like all of the other perfectly perfect babies. My heart just skips a beat when I see Johan after walking through the gate, not because of his reaction, but just because I have come to learn about everything that he does and needs. I make a point to say his name as many times as possible throughout my short 3 hours of work, along with telling him about everything that he’s touching…and tasting (Johan really likes to lick things, including me. If he really wants to experience something, he bites it. Including me). The most amazing part is, that even though he can’t see me, Johan seems to always know when its me taking care of him for the day, instead of someone else. Clearly there is smell involved, but even after just 2 or 3 days of me walking with him, and guiding him in my broken Spanish, he really seems to appreciate me.
The connection I’ve made with him will never ever be replaced in my life. Even now, just thinking about him (having spent the morning giggling, walking and holding him as he slept) I get teary. I told my mom during her visit, that if I were 5 years older, I’d adopt him without hesitation. I’m even considering it now, as a homeless, broke, ever-moving 22 year old.
It would be so difficult to raise a Spanish speaking, blind son, but not nearly as difficult as being blind and being raised in an orphanage. He deserves so much better. They all do.
The kids at Patchecutec that I teach also deserve better. Growing up in a place without running water, proper education, and thousands of other things that we’ve always taken for granted, is completely unfair. More so, I am at a huge loss when it comes to helping.
The name of my program here, Tarpuy Sonqo, means “Spreading Love” in the indigenous language of Quechua. On a regular basis I find myself remembering this, and telling myself that even though my students won’t be fluent in English when I leave, Johan won’t have his site back, and I can’t give them everything they’ll ever need, I can give them love. I am comforted by the idea that for the 2 months I’m here, these children will get a hug everyday, they’ll have a hand to hold on their walk home through the sandy streets, and always someone to win them their juice back during recess.
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