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A Lifetime Experience

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Two summers ago and in the time of only one week, several young boys and the nuns that cared for them had an impact on my life that I will never be able to forget. I took three weeks out of my summer to travel down to Guanajuato in Mexico to learn Spanish, live the culture, and participate in something that became more than just community service. As any new cultural experience, it was rough at times but the result that came all too quickly was a group of about twelve American teenagers not wanting to leave Guanajuato at all.

It was the summer of 2007 with an organization called Broadreach when I left for Mexico for three weeks. During week one, each participant was paired up with one other and placed in host families. Every day we walked to a school called Escuela Mexicana to learn Spanish. Every night we spent with our family getting to know them better using our Spanish speaking skills. This was so much more difficult than I could have imagined. However, being placed in that situation where they did not know any English, forced us to pick up on their language and culture while actually living as a Mexican. Week two was spent backpacking in the mountains. A local Mexican led our group each day and shared his stories every night by the campfire. This was the week I felt like I connected more to everyone. I became more aware of my surroundings and the opportunity I had been given. During week three, we traveled down to a boys’ orphanage on the outskirts of the town. I was able to not only volunteer at the orphanage, but also actually live with and feel part of the boys’ lives for that week.

This final week I spent in Mexico, this last week at an orphanage away from everything, was the week that will be impossible to forget. The orphanage was small but well run by two nuns that cared for the children more than anyone could ask for. The minute our two vans of Broadreach kids pulled up into the driveway of the orphanage, the boys were running towards us with smiles from ear to ear. They swung open the doors and actually hopped in the vans pulling out our suitcases. I’ve never seen so many children so eager to have visitors. I knew at that moment that this week would not have one dull moment. From the time we started playing games with them, they began asking how to say thing in English; they wanted to be a part of our culture just as much as we did theirs. The boys’ ages ranged from only a few months to 18 years old. Despite the huge age differences, the twenty-some boys all wanted to be around us every possible moment they had. We ate meals with them, cleaned up all the dishes, played games, watched movies, bought piñatas for them to use, talked, and slept in the church where their pastors sleep when they are in town. At this point I couldn’t even call this week of our trip community service; it was so much more.

The food at the orphanage was different and consisted of lots of bread, tortillas, and rice, because that is what was cheapest for the nuns to support the children there. The orphanage was also pretty confined and the toilets were not too appealing. However, it was the attitudes of the children and the nuns and the love they shared between each other that immediately reflected upon us. None of the food, space, or the toilets mattered beginning the instant I was greeted at the van the very first day. Yes, it was rough at times getting used to the environment of an orphanage of twenty boys, but when the day, the hour, and the minute arrived when it was time to leave, it was almost impossible.
The entire time I was there I wore two blue beaded bracelets. As we were saying our goodbyes, I gave one of my bracelets to a boy and kept one for myself. This was to remind each other of the family we have outside our comfort zone in the homes we are raised in. One by one we boarded the two vans we arrived in at the beginning of the week. Our farewell, though, did not end. “Adios” was heard until no boys were seen. As we drove out of the fenced of land of the orphanage, the kids had ran up to the fence, climbed it and continued waving good-bye. That was when the emotions really hit, and I realized that this was truly a lifetime experience.

Who could have known that just one week could have so much impact on a group of young boys, boys who never have lived the life of a picture perfect American family. However that week had as much an impact on me; someone who has had the blessing to have a mother, a father, and siblings to look up to my entire childhood. The boys never once frowned, never once complained. They were always happy and coming up with new things to do. It made me think twice when someone would complain about something small and make such a big deal about it. I look back on this week spent with the high-spirited orphans and just want to tell my pampered friends, “Oh, it’s nothing”.





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