Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Ecuador: Doing the best I can

After a rough day at the orphanage yesterday (the one with 51 children of varying ages from young children through adolescence), I had a very good day today.

Yesterday I wondered if anything I did mattered. I realize that all help is good help, but if I weren’t here, would it just be someone else, and even if it were someone else, would that matter. What would happen if no one were here to volunteer. Nothing. Kids are tough and they are resilient and they would find a way to survive. But then, thanks to someone’s Facebook status reminding me that, “There is no such thing as a small kindness” (I forget who the quote was attributed to), and a quote from a book about Mother Teresa I’m reading (no I don’t at all compare myself to her, but am inspired by some of her words) that reminds us that “we don’t have to do great things, just small things with great love,” or something very close to that. And to top it all off, I happened to come across this talk:

I like that he reminds us that the Lord has a plan to help people and to help people who want to help and I want to help.
Finally, a conversation with a good friend about what remember from being very young. The odd things you remember. The one or two sentences or minutes in time that someone did something, good, or bad, that has stuck with us and shaped how we view certain situations.

I just have to remember that at any moment, THAT moment, might be one that these kids do remember. A small kindness that one of them might be saying one day, “you know what I remember from when I little that make a huge impact on me”, or even if I can just give them one hug the matters, then I’ve done enough.

It’s hard here. It’s hard to see so many ADORABLE and AMAZING children go without everything I want them to have. I don’t mean things, I mean attention, hugs, reminders of how much potential they have, confidence builders. It’s not that I’m afraid I won’t give them these things, it’s that I’m afraid the few short months I’m here won’t be enough of a reminder. And it’s not like the workers and other volunteers don’t give them what they need in these aspects, too. They do, at least as much as they can.

Often when I go in I’m pretty much invisible. I try to stand back and be as helpful as possible. Often times I’m completely ignored. The workers are off busy somewhere else. Sometimes there are other volunteers there, sometimes not. At this particular orphanage, usually not. I always try to find the workers first before to see if they need help but as I was sent home yesterday early, having completed a lot of chores, I decided I was just going to be a little more proactive (which I wasn’t before, trying to be respectful and helpful rather than be in the way). It was a huge hit.

I arrived to find probably 30 kids running around outside. I just found a small area on the grass and sat down. Of course, there were several kids who instantly came over to give and receive hugs and some just curious as to who I was, as I’d always been in the back catching them up on laundry. I had pipe cleaners. That’s it. Just pipe cleaners. So I opened up my back pack and was immediately swarmed. I didn’t think it could be such a big hit. Not knowing much Spanish we were still able to make some order out of things and the children quickly learned that there was to a line and they could each have 5 of their choosing. It was kind of fun to see how excited the kids got, and to see what they came up with. Oddly enough, the biggest and most immediate game became getting back in line to trade their previously chosen pipe cleaners for new ones. I would only allow them to trade one at a time because there were so many kids wanting to trade. I don’t even think that they necessarily wanted different pipe cleaners. They just wanted to trade. And so it became more of a circle than an like with an end. Kids would come and trade one and circle back to the end of the line to trade again. It’s always funny to see what kids can turn into a game. And today, this was the game.

There was one boy, probably about 9 years old who kept trying to be a playa; getting to the front of the line he would try to sway me for additional turns or additional pipe cleaners with puppy-dog eyes and calling me, “Tia, oh Tia”. And smacking his lips like a pop sensation before saying, “come on girl”. It was pretty hysterical...and ineffective. I worked with kids long enough not to be swayed but such awesome attempts and “working it”. I’m sure it works on lots of people though. I just did the same thing back to him and went, “awww, Amigo” which he could barely keep a straight face.

A few people including my “amigo” I just mentioned hung out around me and I helped them to make shaped with their pipe cleaners, mostly corazons and estrellas (hearts and stars) and a few gaffes (silly glasses). Eventually everyone had their shapes and we were sitting around goofing off in the grass when I started using the grass to whistle through my thumbs. Instant knew games. These guys love anything new and were super excited to learn and practice. At first they jeered each other, but with a bit of luck and a lot of work, they were soon cheering for each other and getting excited instead of upset when someone else was able to get the whistle down. It started raining a bit and so I learned how to say raining-which I have already forgotten (ugh).

One girl came up to our little group and wanted me to repair her star wand (she kept saying repair in Spanish but I forget what the word is right now-I’m typing from the beach so my mind is pretty blank :) as it should be). I had no idea what she was saying so I pulled out my dictionary and gave it to one of the older boys who started looking up words for me. They got all excited about looking up words and trying to say them correctly in English. So we all learned a little bit of a foreign language that day as well.

It was a good day.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Ecuador weeks 2 & 3

I found out something really special the other day. While I was at the orphanage with babies and toddlers, which I am at twice a week. I was admiring the floor in the playroom as I sat with two on my lap and one child fussing in front of me on the floor. It’s a very nice laminate wood floor. This evidently was put in for the orphanage as the rest of the building is a beautiful old building with beautiful stone floors. Beautiful, and painful. Painful for little babies who bump and bobble around. I was especially appreciative of this floor in this particular moment as I was able to safely slide the fussing number 3 baby smoothly and safely back and forth, kind of like rocking it while we were all sitting on the floor, consequently changing the fussy baby into all smiles and giggles. The babies bump and bobble their way across this floor with the usual baby fumbles and spills, but with far less devastation than the stone floors elsewhere in the building.

I had mentioned my love of the floors, both that they were pretty, and very conducive to both baby play and pacifying-as with baby giggles I mentioned earlier. I was later informed, I think by Kelsey (my sister-in-law), that when my parents visited here several years ago they, and a few others, got together to see what was most needed and would be most helpful at the orphanage. The idea of a safer floor for the children to play on came up. Apparently my parents helped fund the purchase and installation of the very floor I was now playing on, and admiring. Very cool.

This is especially sweet to me because I lost my father last year. I had no idea that he had done this or that I would be here helping out. I certainly wasn’t expecting the wonderful reminder of how good of a man my dad was and wanted to be. Here I am now, using the very floor he helped purchase for these little ones, for the express purpose I’m sure he’d hoped it would serve. He must’ve giggled like crazy as I sat there commenting on how great that floor was, having no idea that he had been a part of getting there. And I’m sure years ago he had no idea that one day I would be sitting on the very floor he helped purchase. I’m hoping that I am doing a good job and that he is proud of his floor, and of me, and the fun I’m having with those kids on it.

I want to quickly share another sweet little story that took place on my father’s floor. (I’m sorry the last few weeks are jumbled together. I’m not the best at writing and I tend to take notes and then the chronology gets all mixed up, but I hope you enjoy the story anyway.)

I was playing in the playroom with I think 6 or 7 babies (by babies I mean less than 2 years old) and one other volunteer. I forget what we were playing, blocks I think, but there a few kids getting a little restless-and I think not feeling the best...lots of little colds going around-mine included. One of them came up to me for some down time and some loves. Now usually, I am not a fan of kids hands in my hair. They pull, and hurts. And I’m a wimp. But my ponytail fell forward and was brushing the kids cheek as I was also playing with another child at the time. I went to get it out of this kids face and just to let him know it was okay and not too fuss with the mess in his face, I took a section of hair in my fingers and tickled his cheek with it. Bit hit. He grinned. I tossed my hair back behind my face and went back to snuggling and playing. He reached for my hair. Uh oh. I went ahead and tickled him with my hair again. If I do it, he can’t pull and my delicate brains won’t get frazzled. He wrapped his fingers kind of around mine sort of, “helping me” tickle his face. He was actually very careful...probably saw the warning to be cautious in my eyes and panic :). He tickled his cheek, then my cheek, then the cheek of another child. It was all very quiet and calm and very, very sweet. Turned out to be his favorite game of the day. Of course, nearly anything could beat the rest of the day. It was immunization day. :(

This in and of itself is a great story. It simply involves 3 volunteers, 6 babies, a nun, an old truck, and dirt roads full of deep tracks and potholes going straight up a mountain.
Okay, so maybe not so simply, but it did happen.

There was once an orphanage who was good about making sure all of the children had their immunizations up to date, including our adorable 10 day old baby that came to us after being abandoned at the hospital. When the day came for 6 of these babies to go the doctor, at the top of the mountain to ensure they all had their shots, the 3 volunteers that happened to be at the orphanage that day were all enlisted to help rearrange and move all the cribs, as it was also apparently floor cleaning day. Easy enough. The communication gets a little fuzzy here. Something about shots. A doctor-one volunteer notes, that the doctors who see the children regularly come to the orphanage itself to check on them. I don’t know. What I do know is that the 3 of us ended up in the back seat of truck (it was a small 4 door truck). One volunteer holding 2 babies, another volunteer-crunched in the middle, holding another child-and myself completing the sandwich whilst holding the 10 day old darling. Wait, that’s only 4 babies you say? Where could the other two be? The other two, being the oldest of the group, were strapped in via seat belt into the front seat, by themselves. While a seemingly cheerful but unconcerned nun hopped in the driver’s seat. Okay. Off we go. At first it just seems a bit crazy. Then it gets down right hysterical. We start to go back and forth, switch-backing, if that’s a word, up the road to a go a little higher up the mountain (all of Cuenca is mountains, so you're always either headed up or down a mountain here-this one just seemed a bit steeper than most). The pavement gives way to dirt, which gives way to what looks like was very muddy at one point and has now dried in a big ruddy mess, with random, GIANT holes all over. At one point the volunteer in the middle just loses it and starts laughing uncontrollably. I just don’t think she knew what else to do, and so she laughed, a lot. We all did. I’m pleased to say that nun did the best she could and didn’t drive as madly as one might have expected. I will also say that crossing paths with a few buses on this barely one-lane carved up “road” for lack of a better word, was nuts. The buses here take on roads that four-wheelers shy away from! Needless to say, all the immunizations were administered and we returned safely to the orphanage.
I’m sure this is very appalling to many of you, as it should be. But we have to keep in mind that not everywhere is overly-regulated, and not everywhere has the luxuries of car seats for every child. Or, in this case, even the luxury of a family. So before we get too heated about the ratio of seat belts to nuns and babies think of where these children would be without that old truck, the volunteers, and the wonderful nun driving them faithfully and carefully as possible, on those crazy roads to ensure they get proper medical care. Sure it’s a bit “different” here. But they do a lot with what little they’ve got and I’ll do all I can while I’m here to help out where I can. Thanks again for you support.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Ecuador: a long update, pace yourself.

I have now been in Cuenca for one week. And whereas, things seemed to be going slow at first (I wanted to jump in and know everything the first day, me and my dreamer’s ways), things seem to be flying now. I can’t believe I already have one less week here. I won’t let myself think about that though. And if I have to come home, work, save money, and come back so be it. :)
Again thanks to all you who made this a little easier on the dent this is making in my savings, but what else are savings for than to live life the way one has always intended? :)

So a recap of the week. I have visited two orphanages, one run by OSSO (you can donate to them at, which takes care of a lot of the special needs kids. More than one of which I’m told was found in trash cans. Many were dumped at police stations. I hear there are worse places that they have been found but my sister-in-law, Kelsey (who should be known as “The most patient-wonderful-nicest-helpful-loving-lovable-person-queen-goddess”) prefers not to mention. And let me tell you something: I am no expert on special needs kids, but I do have my fair share of interaction with them at work. (I’m a pediatric caner nurse and see a lot of special needs kids there as often time it comes with more complications-like cancers. I hope I’m not offending anyone by calling “special needs”, I’m not sure what the preferred term is to many of you, but we all do the best we can to be respectful, and that is the term used here.) But let me say this, this kids receive more love and opportunity to function than many that I see in the states with all of our therapies and special care. There is even an equestrian center that allows them to come and interact with them there. I accredit this to the amazing love and permissiveness for these children to interact and do whatever they can try to do, even if it makes a mess. The place is run by a few regular staff and many volunteers. The supplies are meager and the house is humble, but clean and organized. I can’t stress how much LOVE, and patience, is given to these kids.

I was blown away by one girl, that at first glance to me, appeared to be lost so far inside her own word, and so very limited on her ability to interact with the outside world, that I thought she do little more than sit in her make-shift wheelchair and vaguely notice the changes in her surroundings. I was sitting near her with another little boy who was also delayed (sorry if that offends, it’s the term used in the medical world for people who are developmentally delayed for one reason or another) and was recovering from any ear infection. He would occasionally smile at the bubbles being blown, but for the most part he just wasn’t feeling well and was pretty lethargic. Poor little guy. Back to my story-we were sitting near this sweet girl, probably about 7 years old, who was showing no signs of interest or interaction with the outside world when one of the loving workers hurried by. This little girl’s leg shot straight out. Not knowing this girl and seeing that no other part of her body or face had changed, I would have taken this as a reflex of some sort perhaps. The worker, although hurried, stopped and tickled the underside of this little one’s leg, calling her by name. The light in that little girl’s eyes said it all and the leg shot out again. This game went on for a little while with the slightest change of expression on her face but with the biggest smile in her eyes. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people with that much limited expression ignored or dismissed. Perhaps, even by me. But not here.

I was able to join right in and learned that even though many of these kids can’t necessarily speak very well, they know and understand both English and Spanish. Like I said, although they may be limited in some ways their intelligence is not down-played here.

I was able to stay into dinner time and even help with the feedings. There were a few children so limited in their abilities to move that I was surprised when they were given utensils and allowed to feed themselves, happily, I might add, even if they only got about half of their simple dinner of noodle soup with popcorn and few chunks of mystery meat in it, made it to their mouths. One of the girls was having a giggle fit over the new visitors and had the most difficult time concentrating on dinner and kept putting noodles on her nose and calling me “loca” by spinning her finger around her ear and then pointing at me. (Remember doing that in grade school?)

The boy I was feeding did most of the work even if his hands didn’t work well enough for him to use the utensils himself. He had his subtle ways of communicating showing that he had no fear of interaction with adults or others.

I have to interject my own thoughts here. Kids are smart, way smarter than us. And you can tell a lot about the how a child is treated by how they interact with adults. Forgive the comparison, but they way you might trust some one if your dog trusts them is very much they way I feel about children. I trust the adults that they trust and un-self-consciously interact with. And from what I can tell and the ease in which these children love, trust and interact makes me want to give all I can to the people who take care of them day in and day out. And quite frankly, makes me want to learn to love they way both these children and those who care for them do. They do an amazing amount with the little bit of resources they have. A little love goes a long way. And you can see it reflected in these children’s faces. I’m so glad to know that someone(s) who care so much are the ones caring for these kids.

You may notice I’m talking a lot about the special needs kids. Well, I didn’t get to interact with the other children at this particular orphanage all that much because, well, they were all sick. :(

I fear many of you may get bored by this long post. Sorry about that :). I just am already so in love with these kids and these orphanages.

I stopped by another orphanage that is very short-handed in the baby-care department. I will be headed there regularly on Mondays and Thursdays and will be on bath duty. :) Shout out to Clarke, and his co-worker, who purchased two cases of baby soap for me to bring down in my bags. It IS crazy expensive here! (Cheap, no-name shampoo is like $4!) And shout out to the desk lady at the airport I mentioned earlier (maybe only on facebook?) who let 7 extra pounds slip past the scale without charging me the extra $100, to make sure all of the donations made it here safely. Go awesome lady at the airport with a big heart!
I will start baby duty this Thursday. The time I spent there this week however was spent with four adorable little three year old girls. One of which greeted us with a gruff, “HOLA!” with her arms defiantly crossed when we entered the room. All sass. I knew instantly she and I were going to be friends. :)

She ignored us for a while and played defiantly on her own, making sure we knew she was ignoring us. Shortly thereafter, she made her way over to me and stood in front of me, leaning her back against my legs. She took my right hand and pulled it close to her cheek. Her height was such that my finger tips, hanging casually, grazed the top of her shoulder. She pressed her cheek into my hand and I tickled her shoulder a little bit with the few fingers she wasn’t holding. We stood like that for a good 5 minutes. Not talking. Her just snuggling her cheek into my hand and playing with my fingers, with her back pressed up against the front my legs. I’ll never forget that quiet moment and her love of the affection. She gave more to me in that moment that I could have given to her.
After our silent bond of friendship was made we played a bit on the swings until she felt the need to show us who was boss again and stomped off on her own, making sure to look make and make sure we noticed.

(Now this I understand. I prefer someone choose my company rather then giving me attention because they feel they are supposed to or if I have to try to get it. I figure someone will offer friendship or attention without me begging for it or going out of my way to force them then it means more. I smiled at this similarity she and I share.)

I walked up to her and smiled, she turned and grunted. So I walked a few paces off and found myself a seat on a brick planter. I patted beside me, smiled, then looked away and waited. That was enough. The invitation was sent. A moment later someone, you guessed it my little friend, had sidled up against me and was ready to play. She sat on my lap and we made funny faces at each other for a bit. Giggling, which was all the communication we needed (good thing too, because my Spanish is no bueno). After about fifteen minutes of play I was surprised to find my face immobilized in her two little hands. She looked me straight in the eyes and gave me a big ol’ smooch. I laughed uncontrollably for a moment because of the sweetness and the surprise of it all. Another little piece of my heart got left in Ecuador right then and there. I’m sure I’ll see this little girl again, even if I am on baby duty on this orphanage. I’m sure I could stay a few extra hours occasionally to have my day brightened by this sweet girl, all full of sass.

I hope you’re enjoying my little stories because I’m certainly enjoying remembering them, even if I’m not such a fan of writing.

I met with the director of a third orphanage today. I found out that it’s more like a foster care. They have only two orphaned, orphans there, whereas the others have been through some pretty difficult things in their short, little lives, at home and have had to be removed things got so bad. Another kind of special need, I guess one could say. Kids are resilliant but that doesn’t mean they go unaffected by the ugliness they face. I have turned in all of my information to be cleared to work there as well and most likely be there on Saturdays with more of like a lesson plan I come up with, working with a few of them at a time and rotating to make sure they get some more one-on-one attention. At least this is the hope of the director. I’m pretty comfortable with this as I’ve worked in my fair share of “child development” centers and even studied a bit of early childhood development and hope to come up with some good ideas for activities to do with small groups (probably three at a time).  They do, understandably so, have some behavior issues, the director tells me. Live and learn, I guess...and love. Love probably being the best thing I can do with these guys. I’ll have to remember it’s not about the project or activity we’re doing. So I’ll put that sentence here as a reminder to myself. It’s not about what I’ve planned for the day, it’s that they walk away uplifted and encouraged and loved. There Amy, don’t forget.

This particular orphanage/foster home will also have a medical/surgical clinic some time in June I hope to be useful at.

It’s been pouring rain pretty much all day. Sprinkles in the morning, to heavy, lovely-sounding drops all afternoon. It’s late evening now and I’m getting ready to turn in, the night before my 32nd birthday. And I’m going to bed with a smile. I’m so glad I get to be here. I’m so glad for this pause in my life and the opportunity to give freely of myself, or at least try to. Funny thing is when it’s not about you, you tend to get a lot out of it. And I’ve got a lot it not needing to be about me in my life. Who doesn’t :) ?

Tomorrow for my birthday I hope to get a few things done that I didn’t get done today. Silly Ecuador thought today was the holiday and not tomorrow (my birthday). So everything was closed today and I didn’t get some of the things done I was hoping to. And maybe I’ll even see if there’s time to get my niece and nephew to go to the flower market with me and help me pick out a birthday bouquet. I do love pretty flowers and don’t mind getting them for myself. I also really want to go by the fruit market. I have no fruit in my house and I live in Ecuador. That’s got to be some kind of crime, I’m sure. Don’t turn me in, I’m on it.

I have also signed up for a spanish class with my brother, Aaron. We’ve gone twice so far. We have a very eager teacher, Nancy. Both days we’ve had to cut her off, as our lesson is only an hour and she is happy to keep on going well after the time, which normally I wouldn’t mind but Aaron has work and both days we’ve had things needing to get done immediately following the lesson. Her son, Sebastian, is a quiet, helpful and swing young (probably about 10) man who kisses me hello and then retreats into the background (as I’m sure the “school” is also their home). We occasionally hear him sweetly shout out helps to his mom, who doesn’t speak much English but needs help getting her point across. His English is pretty good and he’s so calm and kind. Aaron obviously speaks a lot more Spanish than I do, as I speak NONE. And he’s been here six months, plus he’s lived here before. But he says he doesn’t mind me being so far behind because it makes him feel smart, which is good I guess. I did get a bit frustrated today at the lesson as after and hour I was done and we were there for another half hour learning non-sensical stuff. Well, I guess it’s sensical, or will be eventually, but my brain was full and we were wandering around the house just pointing out and saying different things when I already have a whole stack of new phrases to learn I feel like learning the phrase for “sugar dish” was just pushing them out. I’ll get there though. I make up a lot of my Spanish, and at least 30% of the time it seems to come across just fine. Either many people speak more English than I realize or my guess as to what something might be in Spanish is close enough that they understand. I really do make up a bunch of words. I’m such a gringa.

That is a very long update, and I hope you get something out of it. I should go to bed now, after reviewing my Spanish phrases. I have a big day tomorrow....

....Oh and tomorrow I’m going back by the Red Cross to sort out times to volunteer there. They gave me a website and some questions to answer before being able to volunteer but it all came up a bit funky and so I’m taking my super helpful sister-in-law with me tomorrow to help translate and set things up clearly. She’s been a HUGE help despite having two crazy, cute kids (3yrs and 2yrs old) who are rambunciously full of energy as well as being at the beginning ills of her third pregnancy. HUGE help. I hope carma comes back her way. I don’t think Sammy and Harmon (my niece and nephew) will mind too much as they might get to see some ambulances there. :)

Good night all. Hope I remember to post this tomorrow when I mooch internet off my brother tomorrow. ;)