Nuestros Ahijados

Because I don’t start teaching my own English classes until next week, this week has been a sampling of all the different projects within Nuestros Ahijados.

Entrance to Nuestros Ahijados- it is really an oasis

Monday I went to Casa Jackson, the infant malnutrition clinic, for an afternoon shift. I don’t think I have ever handled babies before that I can remember, let alone malnourished Guatemalan babies. The first baby that I held was 2 months old and weighed 4.9 pounds. They are so fragile that at first I was really scared I would damage him somehow. Two hours later, I had that baby in my arms and I was bottlefeeding him as he gripped my finger. The parents of the children there are required to visit each week and talk with social workers and nutritionists. Sometimes when the babies are ready to go home, their parents might not be ready to take them back, and so they spend weeks at the clinic waiting. Maybe it was a good day when I visited, but a lot of the kids seemed genuinely happy there, especially a four year old named Zoila who had me put about ten different outfits on her babydoll. She climbed all over me like I was a jungle gym and bopped her head along as I sang a Spanish lullaby I learned from the movie, ‘Paris, Je T’aime”
“Que lindos patitos que tengo yo, que lindos and bonitos que Dios me dio”

On Tuesday I was paired up with a social worker and I went along with her to her morning shift in the San Juan slum to visit some of the families who receive assistance or want to receive assistance from Nuestros Ahijados. The first family we visited was definitely the hardest. They lived in a tent on a dirt lot, 8 people in one tent, no running water, no electricity. The two youngest children who were 4 and 5 were there with their mom, and they were so filthy that I wanted to give them my bottled water to bathe with. The mom cried and told us her story about how her husband is an alcoholic and none of her kids are in school because of it. The women I was working with told the mother that she would definitely be recommended to have a home built for her family, but the waiting list can sometimes be years. We visited a few other families in the neighborhood who were a bit better off. The other families at least had sheet metal ceilings and concrete floors, as well as electricity and running water, which make a huge difference because in those conditions, children can study at home and look presentable at school, having showered.
Wednesday was spent at the Dreamer Center, the school I am teaching at.. More details there once I start getting more involved.

Belmaris, one of the fourth graders at the school where I am volunteering

Thursday night, I worked the dinner shift at the homeless shelter run by Nuestros Ahijados. This was probably my favorite part of the week. The shelter is divided into two sides that can’t see each other, one for men, one for families. A lot of the men appeared to be wasted, but they helped each other out, cleaning themselves off in the bathroom. The employees and volunteers have a station that is elevated about 4 feet above everyone else right in the middle of the shelter. From our perch, we could see both sides, as well as into all the bathrooms, stalls, and showers. When I arrived, there was only one little boy on the family side. I went over to say hi and realized it was one of my students from the Dreamer Center. I don’t really know his whole story, but he told me he has 4 siblings. Duties at the homeless shelter: ladling out hot soup and drinks, serving everyone there dinner, collecting up dishes and washing them all.

I am going to try to return to the homeless shelter once a week to try to work the dinner shift. It is so different than volunteering in a school, because there, you can see the immediate effects of your service. You see the homeless people having a safe place to sleep and a hot meal. When you volunteer in a school, you don’t really get to see the long term benefits of your help. Students with an education will have more opportunities to pull themselves out of poverty in the future, but by the time that happens, I will be long gone. I just have to trust that I am making a difference here.

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