Last weekend Be the Cause assembled a group for its monthly Mexico service trip to the orphanage Casa de Paz. This would be my first time attending, I have been busy with school work for so long that this was the first time I was available to go. In fact I had to negotiate with my family to allow me to go, good thing that’s my major. Not that they are against doing good things in the world, they are just worried about the safety aspect. For anyone who has any concerns of that nature, I can attest to the security and safety measures of the service trip.
I have participated in many Be the Cause events and activities in the past, but I really didn’t know what to expect. So the night before I made sure I packed everything on the list and then some (I was a boy scout for exactly 3 months). I woke up early to make sure I arrived at the meeting spot exactly at 5am. It turned out I was 10 minutes early and was waiting in the wrong parking lot for 15 minutes. When I finally found the van I was fairly relieved as everyone fortuitously assembled at relatively the same time. Lots of familiar faces and one new one. But then it hit me. Am I truly ready for this? Creating an impact on children within a culture and language I am still unfamiliar with? Nope. But I was excited and anxious… for a 3 hour drive.
It was something new as it was the first time I ever drove past the border. And just as we past the border there was a drastic cultural change. I was expecting something more gradual. To my right was the coastal developments filled with beautiful homes and time shares that was fairly empty. To my left was decaying buildings and alleyways filled with people. The proximity of the contrast was disturbing. Though the closer we came to Casa de Paz, it seemed more beautiful the landscapes.
For those who have never experienced the service trip here are some details. There are about 50 kids that live in Casa de Paz, about 15 of those are special needs kids. Their ages range from just learned to walk to about to attend college. There are less than 10 adults and yet they manage. The orphanage, and many like them, are not governmentally run, but are built entirely on donations and compassion. Be the Cause trips are usually to help with some of the functions of the orphanage, such as repair and development, but this time we concentrated entirely on the children. Recently the the couple that were like parents to them abruptly left, leaving the children confused and feeling orphanned (I’m pretty sure that isn’t a word) again.
When we arrived my anxiousness turned into nervousness. Seeing all those kids and noticing the conditions of the orphanage, it was too much to absorb. I couldn’t speak for about an hour as I didn’t know what to say, let alone how to say it in Spanish. I can honestly say that I felt a little lost in my thoughts, thinking of all the needs of the children. It seemed like everyone else brought something unique to the trip. Jayson brought hand-made instruments for the kids, Linda and Joana could speak Spanish, Diba seemed like the only one athletic enough to keep up with the kids, and Sonali and her son Ethan brought leadership and heart. Me? I was the guy that over-packed…
I could not honestly say that I truly connected with the kids until I saw one of the girls that Sonali was holding, fall asleep in her arms. Â It was in that moment when it truly came into perspective. Â If you’ve never met Sonali she is the sweetest, kindest, most compassionate person you will ever meet. Â She would give Mother Teresa a run for her money. Â You could see how torn Sonali was that she couldn’t do anymore. Â How unfair the world is for us to know what it is like to be held by a parent and these kids not know that love. Â It really makes you appreciative of what we have. Â At first I felt horrible that I could ever let circumstances bring me down, when I have been given so much from life. Â But that’s not right. Â I have a lot, but these kids have so much more. Â It might not be the same definition, but they definitely have each other for a very different but still very loving family. Â So it did not make me feel selfish any longer, they made me feel inspired to let my heart open to them.
As I observed the children they were not what I expected. Not exactly Oliver Twist or Annie. Well… there were acts of spontaneous song and dance. Â They sang the Barbie Girl song in Spanish. They were not selfish and demanding. They did not alienate us or hide away. They were kids. They ran and laughed. They ate enough candy that it scared me, but that is what kids do. Â They used me as a human jungle gym and on many occasions a little girl called me an “egg”. Â They all had a fixation on my glasses. They loved the instruments Jayson made for them (they really were ingenious). Â They loved the food we made them for supper, but they really loved the ice cream and brownies for dessert most of all. Â In some ways they were much more than just kids. It was like seeing an extremely large family. The older ones would take care of the younger ones and they all helped the special needs kids. Â They all had chores to help around the orphanage. Â They all go to school.Â It truly is an amazing sight. They don’t bear it as if it were a burden or responsibility, it is something they do to preserve harmony and to make sure everyone was happy and comfortable. Something that we as a society strive for is achieved unwittingly by children. Perhaps the peace we strive for is not the complex systems we create for adults but the simple idealism that can be found in youth.
In the end it was heartbreaking waving goodbye to the kids as they were off to church and we were ready to leave. Â The little girl that was so attached to Sonali cried as she noticed this was the last time she would see her for some time. Â And the little boy that played with my water bottle and wore my glasses hugged my leg and gave me something he was holding in his pocket, it was an El Torito ad. Â I said “Gracias” and lifted him up so that I could hug him. Â And then they all jumped into the vans waving “adios” and a few “goodbyes”. Â So they were like a large family, and for the most part it works for them, but there definitely is something of an emotional connection about the Â role of parents that help kids grow and love. Â So as we drove off all I could think of was the same thing I was thinking of when I first arrived, “What can I do? Â What do they need?” Â In what ways can we help? Â Can we find them families? Â What would be the best way to fix their playground equipment? Â What can we do to create a fire safety system? Â Should we help build screen windows and doors? Â How can we help their education? Â And how do we help others like them?
Earlier this year a friend told me that in volunteer service there are two results; either they get more out of it or we do. Â So my response to that was why can’t we do both. Â So as I look to the future, when I go back to Casa de Paz, intend to do just that. Â To create and love and celebrate what we can do.