My High School holds a Holiday Festival every year around Christmas time to give children who are less fortunate the opportunity to be pampered with gifts and fun activities for an entire day. There are several jobs you can volunteer for on this day. For example, you can be an escort, an elf, or the leader of a booth set up in the gym or cafeteria. This year, I was an escort and was paired up with an 11 year old little girl named Ibonesa. It was a very fun, interesting and rewarding experience I got to participate in and I will never forget it.
I walked down to the 500 wing on the lowest level of the school and anxiously waited to meet Ibonesa De Soto, the young girl I was paired up with for the festival. I saw Ibonesa for the first time across the room and nervously waved. I did not know why I was nervous, but I truly just wanted Ibonesa to be comfortable and enjoy the day the school had planned for her. I shrunk down to her level and got on my knees, and she smiled. We said hello to one another and my nerves decreased after realizing she was a harmless, adorable little girl. After a few minutes of her not replying to my small talk, I came to the conclusion that she was shy. However, once I kept using icebreakers to hopefully break the shyness, it was clear to me that she did not speak English. The only thing she could say was “Google” and this was in reference to her asking me to google the word she was trying to make me understand. I felt bad and awkward about this, but decided that instead of talking verbally we would have to find other ways to communicate. It was not either of our faults that we were not fluent in one another’s main language, we were just not able to communicate like most of the other buddies were. I felt okay with it, but I could not help but feel sorry for Ibonesa because I could not imagine not being able to communicate my thoughts on such an exciting day. We interacted through gestures and my attempt at speaking Spanish to her using the little Spanish experience I had. It was a challenge and I settled on the fact that we would not be saying very many things to one another throughout the entire day, which had to work whether either one of us liked it or not.
I gave Ibonesa the gifts she wanted in the cafeteria. I was nervous and hoped she loved receiving them as much as I loved getting them for her. Her big ticket item was a pair of pink roller skates, that I was ecstatic to give to her. They were at the top of her list, and I wanted to get them for her because I knew she would light up when she saw them. Even though she could not verbally tell me how grateful she was for these rollerskates, I knew she was silently thanking her lucky stars that I was her buddy. The look on her face said a million words to me. Her eyes were closed, with a wide-toothed smile etched on her face. Her arms clutching the roller skates as if she would never let them go. I felt happy. That was the reaction I was hoping for and it touched me knowing how genuinely grateful she was.
Ibonesa and myself went around to the different stations, and participated in activities such as cookie decorating, building a marshmallow snowman, picking out stuffed animals, and the highly popular face painting station. Ibonesa transformed her face into a jolly reindeer with face paint and decorated so many cookies I was sure she would explode after she ate them. Even though we were not talking during all of this, I knew she was having the time of her life just by looking at her.
When it was time to say goodbye, I felt sad to be leaving Ibonesa, yet also relieved that I could speak in English again. Ibonesa hugged me extremely tight, my mouth breaking into a wide smile due to her cuteness and affection. I walked her onto her bus and said “Adios mi mejor amiga” and Ibonesa replied “Adios.” It was a sweet moment and I knew she was grateful for my wholehearted effort to speak some form of Spanish, grammatically correct or not.
If I were to review Holiday Festival I would first start off by saying it is a truly amazing idea and gives kids an opportunity they would not think of even in their wildest dreams. However, it can be extremely awkward when you are given a kid who does not speak your language. The language barrier is not the end of the world and there were definitely ways around it. However, it took away some of the moments Ibonesa should have had that day, with an escort who understood her completely. I feel that when signing up for Holiday Festival as an escort, it is imperative to have an area on the form that says whether or not you are fluent in another language. There are several capable students at my school who can speak better Spanish than me, who could have given Ibonesa a wonderful day. While I knew she was grateful for me, I felt saddened for her because she had no way to truly express herself. I could not imagine spending an entire day as an outsider, stuck with someone who did not understand me. That should change to make not only the escort’s experience less awkward, but the child’s experience comfortable and pleasurable. Although my particular experience was not as easy as others were, participating in the festival is rewarding and humbling for anyone who does it.
As a whole, I would definitely participate again in the years to come. I love the idea behind it and the school coming together to embrace the holiday spirit with children who may not be shown as much enthusiasm when Christmas day does come. I had so much fun spoiling Ibonesa and showing her a fun day with all my friends as well as with her friends too. I am eager for next year’s Holiday Festival and to get the opportunity to bond with another child in the way I did with Ibonesa.