Our project came to life on Tuesday in two separate classrooms here in Guatemala, at the Safe Passage Educational Reinforcement Center. We had the kids make a list of the ways in which they are unique, the things they like to do and ideas about what they might like to do in the future. To Kelly's delight (our team firefigher,) there were quite a few future bombero's (firefighters) amongst the younger classmates. Many others expressed interest in becoming doctors, veterinarians, teachers or secretaries. Today, all of their interests and characteristics, which make them special, were incorporated into their self-portrait, by using oil pastel crayons, and watercolors. Each paper was filled completely with bright, vibrant colors and images such as musical notes, soccer balls, flowers, rainbows, and a volcano. The pictures turned out to be beautiful expressions of each child falling into space, surrounded by their favorite things.
Each night, we have an hour drive back to the safety, charm, and cobblestone streets of the colonial town of Antigua, where we enjoy lovely dinners at quaint restaurants, far different from the life the children return to after their day at Safe Passage. On tonight's drive home, I reflected on our past four days working with the children. It's been really fun to watch how each member of the group has adapted and interacted with the kids, as we as a team, are all unique as well. Viki loved chatting and handing out bracelets and the kids instantly warmed to her with her fluid Spanish. The young girls enjoyed inquiring about Lindsay's makeup and fashion sense; Heather with a sparkle in her eye and Spanish seemed to constantly be surrounded by kids; Kelly was always prepared to teach a new, interactive game; D'Ova, as an experienced teacher, thrived at the front of the classroom, and Lavina related so well when the kids began to talk about their favorite pop culture music. And I was most content relating through my camera lens, which sometimes drew children to me and other times, allowed me the space to observe.
Today, however was different. It was our second day, in which we were divided up to assist the English teachers. The continuity was rewarding as we entered the same classrooms in which we had assisted the day before. In both classrooms, a small group of girls called out my name and motioned me over as we entered the room. One looped her arm through mine and the other laid her head on my shoulder as we sat in a circle and participated in the English lesson. Soon our 30 minutes had elapsed and we said our good-byes. However, in the second classroom, one of the young girls wrote my name and her name together in a big heart on the back of her paper. We hugged, took a few photos, and once again our 30 minutes was up. As we prepared to leave the class, she said, "see you tomorrow." I began to tear up. "No, no. I won't see you tomorrow, but I will hold you in my heart and in my prayers." There was something special about this little girl, something inside our human hearts that recognized each other and exchanged love. This little girl found me once again at the end of the day, and ran to the open window in my classroom to take a photo of me on her old cell phone. I gave her one last round of besos and abrazos (kisses and hugs) through the window and she she ran back to her class.
I have so much respect for the many volunteers at Safe Passage who spend months, one year, or many years dedicating their lives to investing in these precious children. I now understand the minimum requirement of a 5 week commitment (outside of being part of a one week support team) to volunteering, as it seems too difficult to make connections and then tell the child you have to leave. I am so thankful for the opportunity we've had to experience the beauty of these children and the safe haven of Safe Passage that shines so brightly in contrast to it's surroundings.
However, we still have one day left to spend with the kids, as Saturday we will be taking our older classroom of teenagers to the Pacific Ocean and a water slide park, so stay tuned! Tomorrow, we're off to hike an active volcano . . . :)