Saturday, April 20, 2013

Little hands, big smiles

                We went from the developed city of shopping centers and green parks, highways and taxis, crowded streets and crowded sidewalks to the desert. Unpaved roads of sand. Unfinished dwellings that could barely pass for housing. The occasional straggling tree. Devoid of all commerce. The odor of burnt trash. Hidden faces. This was Callao, one of the poorest districts located just outside the city limits of Lima. With a volunteer group from the university called Forjando, I went last Sunday to an elementary school there to show the kids some love. The idea is to go once a month and teach them values such as friendship, leadership, respect, etc., as we put on some day-camp-esque programming for them, help give them the tools for a brighter future.

Introductions for 5 and 6-year-olds
                Despite the absence of development, though, we were far from complete desolation. As our bus pulled up outside the school, the uninhibited smiles of the children and their bubbling laughter and cheers greeted us. And the barrenness gave way to fullness. As I carried the head of a chicken costume into the school, I was bombarded by little hands and little heads elated with the costume, trying to put the head on themselves. ¡Qué risa!

                We unpacked, got the materials ready, and then entertained the kids a bit before the theater group put on a small performance for them. While we were playing one girl just came up and hugged me. Another held my hand and refused to let go. How sweet, how desperate, how pure is the love of children. They just wanted to give and receive this beautiful gift that we so often complicate. They reminded me of how simple it is—to love is to beam your heart into that of another. Simple gestures, simple faith. Aren’t children so wise?

Fiorella--the girl who held my hand

                After the theater show, I went to work with the 5 and 6 year-olds as they colored little animals (which were the characters in the show). We made them friendship bracelets of painted pasta, which they proudly displayed on their tiny wrists. Although all of the children were beautiful, my favorite to observe was this 6 year-old girl, Arecela, and her niece (yes, that’s correct) of one year, Aymi. It was incredible to see the patience and love with which Arecela treated her infant niece, helping her walk around, helping her with crafts, acting as an intermediary communicator between us and Aymi. For so young, she acted with such maturity.

The theater show on friendship
                And dear, sweet Aymi became my buddy. This little girl barely made even the smallest sound the entire time. She let me assist her in coloring and try to stimulate her senses of touch, vision, and hearing, something which she obviously not had much of. At the end, during the “hora loca” (“crazy hour”), she was reluctant to boogie and go crazy as the other kids did, so I scooped her up and danced with her in my arms. Holding that sweet pea, I looked straight into her big brown eyes and told her how important she was. How much she was loved. And she gazed right back into my eyes. Maybe she didn't understand the words. Maybe she did. But I know she got the message. It was probably my favorite moment of my trip so far. Ever since then, I have not been able to get her face out of my mind; I feel so blessed to have had that opportunity to connect with Aymi and the other kids. I absolutely cannot wait to go back next month!

La dulcita, Aymi

"The world is as many times new as there are children in our lives."
~Robert Brault

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