Last week I went on "house visits" with Oliver, one of the founders of Vida, and Meg, my volunteer companion and friend.
I had been warned and prepped for what I was about to see. I knew what to expect. I knew it would be difficult. And then I experienced it and realized that no matter how much someone tells you what an experience will be like, whether it is someone close to you dying or falling in love, the actual experience is completely different.
I didn't take pictures. I didn't feel comfortable invading their privacy. I didn't want to be the girl with everything who was passing through wanting to take pictures of a life she couldn't imagine living.
We visited 5 homes. They were all very different. Everything is built from aluminum laminate, some had laminate "roofs" others had bamboo holding up plastic sheeting. Some had cement floors, others had dirt. Some had been tidied and made to feel somewhat homey, others were littered with garbage and other matter. There was normally 1 bed, a sunken mattress, for 3-4 children and the mother.
The children, when I saw them at home, were completely different from when they were at Vida. I was used to their never ending smiles, squeals of laughter and boundless energy. Here they were shy, quiet, reserved. Many children spent the entire day, every day, on the streets. Their parent(s) rarely know where they are and this is the norm. Some children didn't know where their parents were. Some have an alcoholic father or a mother who prostitutes.
I am so thankful to Oliver for taking me here to see the reality of these children's lives. These kids, who jump on me and wrap their arms around me, they don't have happy lives at home. They barely have a home. But every day they come to Vida for a piece of happiness and a moment away from reality. I am so thankful that Oliver, Marcos and Daniel found each other and built Vida. Last week they didn't have the money for rent for next month, but Daniel says he is not worried. This is God's plan, He will help them find a way. This is their calling.
I only have a couple of days left and I am wracked with guilt. I do not want to leave these children. But I also need to find my own way. I need to follow my own path, that may lead me back to them. Of this I am sure.
I would like to find a way to help them fundraise for different things; whether it is their lunches, rent, paying the teachers, buying more desks, or new toothbrushes or vitamins, I would like to gather sponsors. Their work is never done. They will soon be building a new house for a family thanks to a volunteer's contributions. They are opening a second location in a neighboring town for children with down's syndrome. They are tireless. They are warriors and angels and saviors and very humble.
I only have a couple of days left with them, but I know my work with Vida is far from over.
(I would also like to add that while writing this post, My Heart Will Go On by Celine Dion was playing in the background. I can't make that shit up. I don't know where it came from.)