Ever since I’ve returned from my alternative student break trip to Guatemala I can’t escape the images of the children flashing through my mind. The way their tiny hands and thin arms grasped at my arms and legs. Their sincere smiles, though often black and sometimes toothless, as they played jump rope in their plaza for hours. Their hands full of warts and calluses from constant play and not enough hand-washing.
I met two different types of children during my week in Casa Guatemala: the believers and the skeptics.
The believers would run up to you and ask “Como te llamas?” (What is your name?) “Rosita,” I would say. And before I could return the question they would be reaching for neck excitedly, hoping for a piggyback or an airplane ride. I scooped up each of their fragile bodies as I trotted around the plaza, sometimes like a horse, sometimes like an airplane. I would run until I was out of breath. As soon as I put one down, another would come running. These children believe. They believe in you. They believe that the love and attention you provide, even though it is shortlived, is worth taking advantage of. And they have grown to depend on the constant volunteer who will always be there for their next ride. They smile a lot.
Then there are the skeptics. The skeptics approach and ask “Como te llamas?” “Rosita,” I reply, “como te llamas?” But they don’t answer.
They looking up at you searchingly, “Cuando vas a salir?” (When are you going to leave?)
This is the reality. I only stayed for six days. I hugged, and carried, and smiled, and laughed and played for six days. And then I left. It is so unfair. Somehow the skeptics know. They know that most volunteers, even if long-term, will only stay for two years. They know that their orientador (counselor) will not become their mom or dad. And because of this, they avoid attachment, because none of it is permanent. One day the hugs, the free clothes, the piggy back rides…they will all be gone. And they will be adults. Adults without adults to guide them.
Casa Guatemala is an amazing place. The children are so close because they have to be. Friends are their family.
Our last day at the orphanage was so bittersweet. Some wanted to say goodbye to children with whom they bonded. But I didn’t. I didn’t want to say goodbye because I felt guilty for ever saying hello. It felt so selfish. I traveled here to enrich their lives as well as my own. And while I dug holes, and collected manure, and organized the bodega (warehouse), I still feel as though the time I spent with every child was something selfish. For even one child to know means one child that will have to miss me, even for only a few minutes or hours. To not have a hand to hold on the way to the mid-morning snack. Most of them are young enough, so I know they will forget. But in those brief moments when they have to watch me speed away on the boat, I am sad.
I am privileged to have had this opportunity. To remind myself of all of the things that I take for granted. Which is why I want to help the world. It is why I am devoting so much time to Challah for Hunger. I have the time, the love, and the resources to help others. What was I waiting for? Why did it take me this long to wake up and realize that? Every minute I spend mixing, kneading, baking, braiding, and selling is one more dollar towards a child in need. And hopefully another person is inspired to do the same.
After all, all you knead is love…
love is all you need.