When I signed up to volunteer in Guatemala I knew that it would be tough and rewarding. It is so much more. It is humbling, tiring, fun, taxing and sometimes frustrating. My feelings of frustration are always at myself. It has been hard to pick up Spanish, even with classes. My brain keeps telling me to speak French. This is not helpful. I want to be able to communicate better with the kids. One girl, Shari, she must be about 6, teaches me words in Spanish and I love it. I love when the kids teach me because I hope that it makes them feel important.
Let me tell you about Vida. I have wanted to write this post for awhile, but knew it would be hard, and needed to prepare this post. And myself. Vida started off as a safe haven for children with down syndrome and is now a place for kids with any mental disabilities or who don't have a parent at home. People with down syndrome in Guatemala (and I am guessing many other countries) are discarded. That is putting it simply, and that is how I will leave it. People with other mental disabilities are at risk of being treated the same. Then there are kids with absent parents, alcoholics, drug abusers, or 6 other kids to take care of. There is a 9 year old who parents his 7 younger siblings. So Vida opened up its doors to them as well. It fluctuates from between 25-45 children. The kids that go come on their own volition and by themselves. Nobody brings them or picks them up.
Vida is their safe haven. It has been built from spare parts and they have been amazingly innovative. The people that work there only get paid when there is extra money. There is never extra money. They have lost some amazing teachers because of this. There is a makeshift playground, a dining room where they eat their snacks, and right now lunch three times a week, 2 small classrooms and a work shed. My first day there I was told that Vida was now my home. Forever.
Vida let me into their home and I let them into my heart. The kids run up to me every day and greet me, "Hola Ale!", with a hug and a kiss, or a high five and a fist bump. They climb all over me and chase me and smile the most beautiful smiles up at me. My face hurts from smiling back. I'm always smiling and determined to only ever bring love to Vida. Vida's first project was called the Love Syndrome, Síndrome de Amor, which is the perfect name. Vida is run down and in need of everything, but it is full of love and acceptance.
I want the money I raised to be beneficial in the most beneficial way possible, if that makes sense. Right now someone is sponsoring 3 lunches a week for the children, but that is not a long term thing. They are also always in need of vitamins. They could always use more craft supplies. The clothes the children wear are stained and torn and always dirty. Their homes are tiny and have nothing in them. I have limited amounts of money and I want to use it for everything, which isn't smart or realistic. You see my dilemma. So I am in the process of strategizing what they need most, what will be most beneficial, and what will have a lasting impact for these children. I will be speaking with the people who run Vida about how they would like me to contribute but I know they will tell me that it is my decision.
And so, for a short amount of time, I will give them my love.