So, we finally made it to Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos Guatemala. The first thing that struck me was the size and quality of this place. Coming in you first see the clinic and office on the right and then the classrooms on the left along with a basketball court and playground. The driver dropped us off nearby the volunteer houses. I was surprised by how big they are.
Here’s some pictures of the decent sized kitchen and living room.
Here’s my temporary bedroom.
Shortly after Shawn and I got there, another volunteer from the states arrived. The three of us together went through the oo’s and aa’s of being here and also those awkward moments of not really knowing what to do. The volunteer coordinator was running around getting us things like sheets and pillows and many volunteers and staff saw us and stopped by to say hello. Everyone was really friendly. The general consensus from the volunteers is that the jobs are really really hard but really really good.
We arrived on Friday but we didn’t start orientation until Monday. That means for our weekend we mostly wandered around the property and explored Parramos which is a really close by town. It was nice and relaxing, but by Sunday we were ready to get started.
Here's a couple pictures of the campus
These are the volunteer, visitor, and director houses
Here's the school
Sunday afternoon and early evening all of the other volunteers arrived. There are 11 of us altogether one more is coming the next Monday. There are 5 from the United States, 2 from Austria, 3 from Germany, 1 from Italy, and 1 from Guatemala. Now it’s really hitting me how much of a cultural experience this will be. Right now we are all staying in a house temporary until the other volunteers finish their year and train us in our positions, and then head back home. When we move permanently each of us will have one roommate who is not from the same country or have the same position (this really encourages sticking to Spanish!) I have to say I love how we all have to fumble around with our Spanish to get to know each other. With all of us from different places, it’s kind of our only option. The other volunteers seem really nice and have interesting positions here. I’m looking forward to getting to know them more.
After a welcome dinner on Sunday, we finally started orientation Monday morning. Although all that team building, processing business is not always the most fun or intriguing activity, it was good to spend the morning talking about our expectations and fears and first impressions. Other volunteers joined us and talked to us about their experiences. I started getting really scared about being a tía for the kids with special needs because everyone has been telling me how hard and exhausting it is. Let’s be honest here, I started to tell myself to forget about sleep for a year. But… I was running away with my imagination and I know I’m supposed to be here and I know that working with these kids is exactly what I need to do right now. This has definitely been a time to do some self reflection and adjust my attitude. I’m here for the kids and not to be comfortable.
Anyway, after all this we were introduced to the top three directors and learned a bit about all the departments. After lunch we took a tour with the volunteer coordinator and that’s when I really started thinking that places like this is what is going to change the world. I really like how the kids are brought up here. They are given food that they themselves grow. We saw all the pigs, goats, cows, and chickens along with a green house and garden with carrots, tomatoes, cauliflower, cilantro, beats, corn and other things I can’t remember. They are fields to play volleyball, basketball, soccer, and places for art and music. The kids eat organic food and they get the satisfaction of working for it (also doing their own laundry/cleaning). They get an education and also can be trained in a trade. We saw the workshops for carpentry, bakery, sewing, metal work, artisan work and culinary. They also give the kids opportunities to go to a university. This place isn’t just for a child to grow up and then get thrown into the outside world. They are training them to have professions and to get back to their communities in much needed ways. Then of course there is the mission of love and belonging. I had read about all of this before, but just seeing everything hit me harder that this is how we tackle the cycle of poverty.
The next few days we continued visiting offices and learning about what different departments do. There were the psychologists, social workers, therapists, schools, the clinic, and the workshops. It was a lot of information to take in. Then, the moment we’ve been waiting for, we started in our positions! Thursday, Friday, and then Monday and Tuesday all of us are split up to get trained and observe our departments and positions. I was very excited to finally meet my kids. They are nothing short of fantastic.
I had been getting nervous, but when I met the children I’ll be working with for the next year for the first time, my worries pretty much melted away. Of course some of the kids have interesting or trying behaviors but mostly they all seem really sweet and unique and overall the most open hearted children. This one boy especially has the best smile and always runs to greet me when I come to the house. The time I’ve spent at their house he’s rarely left my side. The past two days I’ve mostly just been observing, playing, chatting, and going to meetings. There’s one girl who loves to talk and we chatted for a long time about NPH, family, the States and Guatemala, and lots of things. Lucky for us, there’s a sand volleyball court nearby the house and we were able to hang out in the sand. It was a really cool sensory time in the sand especially with the nonverbal kids I want to get to know more.
At one point during these two days I did start getting overwhelmed with just meeting so many people and taking in so much information. Especially when everything is in Spanish, I don’t want to miss something important by accident. But, overall I’m very excited and I have a feeling this year is going to be good.
The other tíos and my supervisor all seem really nice. There are 8 tíos and 4 pequeños (the kids who grow up at NPH) who are doing their year of service. Each pequeño gives back to NPH through a couple years of service working in different departments before they continue their studies in high school and college. The schedule seems pretty fair. I think it will be a good mixture of working hard and having rest. Each tío works for two days straight and then has two days off. Two tíos each night sleep in the same room as the kids, one in the girls’ room and one in the boys’. It seems like a good system. Some of the tíos are around my age in their twenties and then others are a bit older.
I’m really curious about checking out the different therapy appointments with the kids. They each have their own schedules with school and therapy. So far there’s physical therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, and art therapy. There also was a recreational therapy program, but some positions with the volunteers have been changing so this therapy position will soon be vacant. There’s been talk that maybe in a few months, I might start leading recreation activities for kids in the mornings and then continue as tía in the afternoons. I don’t know, we’ll see. I like the idea of variety and being active. In either case, I hope to be creative with activities with my kids either in therapy or at home.
I know one thing that I will definitely be struggling with and growing in is the transition between life at Camp Courageous and everyday life here. At camp, every week was a special week out of the year. It was vacation. Every day we could do something different and exciting. We had an activity scheduled every hour and were on the go from morning until it was time to sleep. I think I forgot that normal life is not like this… And also there’re all the culture differences I think. In just these two short days, I’ve already been thinking and asking “Ok guys, what do you want to do? What activities do we have? Maybe we can go here or go there or what?” But I’m starting to realize that being an everyday life caregiver is more laid back and mostly contains tasks like doing laundry, washing dishes, and simply being. This is going to be my challenge. Of course I believe being engaged in learning, exercising, and in a sense working is important, but it’s good as well to step back and just be. As I was mulling these things over inside my head, my real objective stuck out to me. I’m here to love these kids. In whatever capacity that means or could be, it’s as simple as that.
The other volunteers have been getting along in their positions too. Some of them seem pretty tough because the person training them hasn’t been around for some reason, or because there’s still a need to come up with school schedules so they haven’t been able to start working with the kids yet. For sure the next couple weeks we will all get into the groove of things and understand our responsibilities. We are all enjoying our first free weekend. With the other volunteers who have either been here for 6 months or a year joined us for dinner on Friday night in Antigua. It was a good time and Antigua is such a nice city. We had Italian food (pesto pizza for me!) which was a nice break from rice and beans. Tonight (Saturday) we’re planning on going back to Antigua to hang out and go to a concert. It should be fun.
Next week is our last week of training. We have two more days in our department and then three more days of workshop type things.
Ahh, I feel like there’s so much I’m leaving out. I have so much more to talk about and so many thoughts about what I’m experiencing. Unfortunately it’s impossible to include everything. Until next week!