You spend your morning outside in the sunshine, enjoying the summer. I spend my morning watching tiny, living blobs of fleece and yarn waddle through the front gates of Centro Comunitario Esperanza (think little brother from “A Christmas Story” meets “March of the Penguins”) in 40 degree Fahrenheit weather. And I love it.
This week, I work the morning session at the center, which consists of kids younger than age five. In other words, a whole lot of snot and boundless energy.
I arrive at the center around 9:00 a.m., after an hour-long bus ride and a cold walk through the barrio. It’s a welcoming sight: Inés greets my friend and I with a friendly “hola, chicas,” a steaming mug of tea and a loaf of bread. We wait in the childcare room with our tea and the other members of the staff, huddled next to space heaters that don’t seem to actually put off any heat. It takes a while for the kids to arrive: the cold and the length of the journey can make coming to the center a challenge. But when they finally do arrive, the place lights up.
One by one they enter the childcare room, obediently hanging their backpacks and their puffy winter jackets on their designated hooks. Some greet me by wrapping their arms around my legs in a hug, saying “hola, seño,” others look at me cautiously with wide eyes, quite visibly thinking who is this tall human who keeps on smiling at me and claims to not be a terrifying stranger.
They warm up to me pretty quickly, though. Once I show them that, in fact, I am not an alien, they begin talking a million miles an hour, telling me about their mean cat named Sofia or the fact that their little brother broke one of their toys, and it made them really really upset. But I listen attentively, nodding, smiling and, when necessary, pretending that I can actually understand what they are saying when they are mumbling or screaming. It can be hard at times, feeling like I’m about to lose hearing in my left ear because Celina wants to scream “SÍ!” whenever I ask her a question, but it’s all a part of the process. What is the process? Building trust with these kids so that I can make a real impact on their lives. I want them to come to Centro Comunitario Esperanza and feel safe, important and cared for because the reality is that I don’t know what their home life is like.
So how do I accomplish this? For two hours, I try to forget that I am actually a mature, professional adult, and pretty soon I find myself dancing like an idiot with Celina and Dasha, playing peek-a-boo, letting Joaquin and Luciano run in circles around me and chasing a surprisingly quick runaway baby. Note: babies can crawl really fast.
I am halfway through my second week, which means I have only three and a half more weeks to really make an impact on Centro Comunitario Esperanza and on these children’s lives. Based on the fact that when I arrived this morning, they all ran to me, hugged my legs and yelled “hola, seño,” I think I am on the right track.