One thing I can say is that it is both rewarding and challenging to be working with the youth of this area. Many of them come from such difficult and outright heartbreaking circumstances, so we cry with them, celebrate with them and support them and their families in so many ways to help them help themselves to a better life.
I have chosen three primary school students to sponsor, and was delighted to meet with them and their families in their homes recently. Each one is special in their own way, as are all children, and since I had interviewed them as part of my job as a long-term volunteer, I knew what their interests are and planned gifts for them accordingly.
Saúl said he likes to read horror stories, but my motherly instincts kicked in. Not sure how his mother would feel about it, and not being familiar enough with Spanish-language children’s/young adult books, I decided on a fantasy/adventure book instead. I already knew about the book Eragon about a boy and his dragon, and so ordered a copy from Amazon.com.mx . Unfortunately, the web site was in Spanish, and I didn’t notice the light gray letters that stated the book was the English version, so when it arrived, thankfully I opened it to read a little first, and saw it was IN ENGLISH!!! Oh, well, sent it right back and ordered a Spanish-language copy. Problem solved.
For Alexia, she wants to be an architect and likes to draw, so I got a bilingual (English/Spanish) book about famous artists.
For Roberto, he wants to be an Egyptologist and has drawn pictures of pharaohs and other such things on the side of his house – so I ordered a Scholastic book about ancient Egypt.
The home visits went very well, meeting the students and their loving families and gaining insights into their lives, the feelings of various family members, and their motivations for their futures. While the composition of the families of all our students may vary, often because of illness or death of a family member, they appreciate the opportunity that our scholarships give them, and there is much love, hope, encouragement and support in these cohesive families, as well as a great deal of support and encouragement and love from everyone at Project Amigo, from the volunteers to the staff to the coordinators and all of our sponsors, which includes individual people and organizations.
Another source of joy when being a sponsor is writing letters to the students and receiving letters from them. Thanks to the internet, email is a great way to communicate. I have shared pictures of my family, as well as pictures of my village – Goshen, New York – after a snowstorm, since they may have heard of snow, but have never seen it. Considering that regular mail may take anywhere from one month to three months to travel one way, electronic mail is truly a blessing.
For sponsors who don’t speak Spanish, we have staff, volunteers and students to translate. One of my jobs is to translate into English letters from students to their English-speaking sponsors. Sites such as Babel Fish or Google Translate can sometimes result in very comical or nonsensical translations, so a human translator is preferable. However, since we are dealing with the young, we will come across slang and need a native speaker to help get past that roadblock. Recently, I got stuck when translating a letter and came to the phrase “que padres.” Literally, it means “what parents” and I couldn’t make any sense of it the way it was being used in the sentence – not from my dictionaries or even on-line dictionaries, and finally asked one of the staff. He told me the young people use it to mean “cool” as in “Hey, that’s cool, man.”
It reminded me of when my son was a teenager and I had said something to him. He replied, “Mom, that’s sick.” My response was that I thought it was something nice, and he said that the word sick now meant something good. When I went to work the next day, I confirmed this with one of our 19-year-old CNA’s. Guess each generation develops its own language….
One of the things the Project Amigo scholars are required to do in order to keep their scholarships is to participate in homework clubs. April 30th will be el día de los niños, or Children’s Day. Because of this, the homework clubs this week had games, contests and cakes at their club meetings. It was wonderful to be part of it, and seeing kids just be kids and having fun from such simple activities as relay races and musical chairs.
If living down here in Mexico and volunteering with Project Amigo has taught me anything, it is that no matter the circumstance, deep down inside, children are the same all over this world, and I am grateful for the circumstances that have allowed me to be able to play a small part in making a positive difference in their lives.