Sunday, March 16, 2014

Family Visit Day

Hi friends and family! Needless to say my resolution to post more often has fallen through. But better late than never!

A few weekends ago was family visit day. Like so many aspects of life at the hogar it was a day of both happiness and heartbreak. Many of the kids here have family members that are able to come visit them - aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, grandparents, sometimes even a parent - for various reasons. Many have none of these.

Amigos did a great job of finding visitors for the kids without family members. Several of our youngest kids were visited by the nuns who had cared for them in another home. Volunteers who had been regular visitors at the state-run children home were invited to visit our kids who had lived there. Teachers from other schools where some of our children had previously attended were invited. The teachers from our school came to be part of the festivities; neighbors from the nearby town, former madrinas, all were there to be the family a lot of kids don't have.

Everyone congregated for the day up at the school, with its picnic tables and open green lawn. There weren't planned activities so that the children and their family members could have time to just visit. There was a little store where visitors could buy soda, food, and snacks and the children without visitors were given an "allowance" to spend there. Lunch was brought up to the school and in the afternoon there were piñatas. With all the people milling around, all the children playing and all the food and snacks, the whole day had a festival feel, like a summer barbecue.

One little boy had sat with me crying on New Year's Eve because he missed his grandmother. I got to meet her, a sweet and worn old woman. He sat close beside her all day, doing most of the talking. When I went up to meet her he said, "do you want to see a picture of me when I was a baby?" And he took out of his grandmother's purse a worn picture of the two of them when he was probably three. Tucked behind it was a postcard, one of those "Your donation makes a difference in the life of a child" cards, written in English, with empty fields for name, address, donation amount, and a tragic-looking picture of him probably around age 5. Holding it in my hands I was struck by the bizarreness of it all. Now, at age 11, the usually silly, frenetic boy, while standing at his grandmother's side, was glowing with a mature kind of happiness I had never seen in him before.

A different family was feeling very sad. Our older kids are able to go on visits to family members, something Amigos tries to make happen as often as possible so the kids are able to maintain those connections. This particular group of three siblings had made the 2 hour trek to the city just the day before to have a visit with their dad, but they hadn't been able to find him. They're aged 13, 11 and 9 or so. It's hard to wrap my head around what that must have felt like. Trips to the city like that mean a full day of preparation and getting dressed up and hot dusty travel and driving up and down the streets looking, looking and then turning around and driving all the way back. They were all down during the family visit day. The oldest boy lay around lethargically, trying not to show too much. The youngest at one point was sobbing.

I had been hanging out with them throughout the morning, along with many of the other volunteers and staff. Everybody was very aware of how hard it must have been for them and was trying to come up with ways to distract them. I had wandered away to meet the grandmother when one of the siblings came up to me to invite me to their "party." I followed her and saw that the two sisters had pulled themselves together, taken their allowance to the food stand and bought a 3-liter soda, cups for sharing and all the candy and snacks they could buy. And they wanted to share it with another volunteer and me. We sat in the bed of one of the pick-up trucks parked in the yard, surrounded by other family groups having similar picnics and tailgates, and they passed out their soda and chips and chewing gum. Their resilience is absolutely amazing.
Life rolls on here at Amigos; the days are long and exhausting, but the weeks fly by. Another of the volunteers recently wrote a beautiful blog post where she summed up the experience. Things settle into a familiar normal routine; but then a conversation, an interaction, some aspect of life here barges in and reminds us of just how un-normal it all is. Family visit day was definitely one of those. I spent a lot of the day with a middle-school aged boy who didn't have visitors. Most of the day we were laughing and joking; he's a really fun kid. But at one point out of nowhere he said, in a sing-song voice, the way he might complain about the food, "My mom didn't come." I asked him where she was. He said he didn't know. He doesn't know. I've heard that answer before. It makes me shudder every time.

Later that day I was walking back across the soccer field to the school when I crossed paths with one of our high school aged boys with a huge grin on his face and a swing in his step. I said he looked happy and he said he was. I asked if he had family visiting and he shook his head quickly. "No, but it's fine," he said, a little defiantly. "I already have my family here." 

That afternoon I was back in the volunteer house trying to get rehydrated (you folks back home may still be having winter, but we're getting into the peak of the dry and hot season here). We had a visitor from the states staying and she had brought back with her, as visitors usually do, any packages for us volunteers that had accumulated in the Pennsylvania office. There was a package for me from my family. Things in Honduras never quite seem to work out exactly as planned; life is full of absurdities here. So, typically, the package had been intended to arrive in November, and here I was in March with a lovely box full of Thanksgiving and Christmas trinkets and treats. My mom had obviously put time and thought into each little article and piece of candy, little things to remind me of home, right down to a pack of Thanksgiving-themed napkins. There was a card signed by all of my siblings, full of messages of love. My own family visit. 

Of all the disparities I see here, this is the one that's hardest to understand. It's also the one not confined by national borders. There are plenty of disparities unique to Honduras that slap us in the face every once in a while: the lack of clean and reliable water, the poor quality of education, the staggering absence of jobs and opportunities. But of all my privileges, the greatest is one I knew existed all along - the presence of a loving family.

Hasta pronto.

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