Volunteer Maria’s Journey: “From the moment you step into the classroom, these children love you.”

Maria is a high schooler from Maine who spent her senior internship in the spring of 2018 volunteering for a month at Safe Passage. She stayed in a homestay in Antigua and commuted into Guatemala City on the volunteer bus. She mainly helped out in one of the two second-grade classes at Safe Passage. Maria first came to Safe Passage the summer before as a member of the inaugural Adoptive Family Week. Her return this spring was her first independent trip, and Maria connected with fellow volunteers, Safe Passage teachers, and increased her confidence in Spanish. She also got to spend valuable time with her sponsored student.

Here are a collection of her thoughts, taken from the blog she kept:

Last summer I came to Safe Passage as a part of the Adopted Family Support Team. I spent 10 days getting a sense of the Safe Passage program and getting to know three other families who had kids adopted from Guatemala. That was my first trip to Guatemala and so many emotions accompanied it.

Day 2

I’d like to share a reflection. These kids have so much going on in their life outside Safe Passage. Seeing them come through the doors with smiles on their faces, hearing the laughter and enjoying their time at a school is very humbling.

Today there was a little girl sitting at her desk alone so I went over asked what she was doing. She told me she was drawing and asked if I could help her. From then on she would take my hand and bring me wherever she went. What touched me the most was before she left for home she gave me the biggest hug and said Maria, ¿te veré mañana? (Maria, will I see you tomorrow?) Giving this young girl all my attention today made her day.

It’s the smallest gestures that matter the most and I can’t wait to see what will come next!

Day 3:

Now, since I’ve settled in, I’m becoming more confident [in my Spanish]. At dinner I participated in the conversation a bit more than I have before. It’s a good start. The way to learn is by speaking and making mistakes… right?!

Day 4:

On [the Adoptive Family Week] last year I connected with this little boy at the program and at the end of the 10 days, decided to sponsor him. When you sponsor a kid you give X amount of money a month to pay for schooling, send birthday/holiday gifts and write back and forth.

When Maria first met her sponsored student the year before

Today is a day that will stay with me for life. I was walking to my classroom when I heard the teacher in 2A say his name. I asked the woman who I was walking with to wait for a second as I was pretty sure my sponsor child was back to school. I turned and looking from the door was the face of my kid. I said his name and he flung the door open and came running to me, arms open and gave me a giant hug. Almost knocking me over. The smile he had on his face was priceless.

It brings tears to my eyes knowing that by just listening to him, playing with him, giving hugs and continuous love can give him so much joy. I don’t know what he has going on outside the walls of the school but I’m glad I can be there for him in any way possible.

Day 5

From the Mayan language class

Once at Camino Seguro, I went to my class and two girls saying Seniora Maria came running to give me a big hug. Throughout the day I helped in math class, played with the kids at recess, helped the teachers out at lunch and even sat in on a Mayan language class. One of the teachers is learning English so she asked me to help her with her homework. Today the children started to open up more. In particular, one of the boys, throughout the day would come up to me giving a giant hug and hold on so I couldn’t move. He is one of the disruptive ones but give him your attention and he’s a complete teddy-bear.

Day 9

Normally I take the volunteer bus into Safe Passage but this week there’s a support team from Poland Regional High School so I rode on the van with them. They seem like a really great group of high schoolers. When we arrived at the program I helped hand out their shirts, watched a video about the founder of Sage Passage and one of the hardest things to see, I think, was the Guatemala City dump. I have been told, you can’t see it too many times.

Day 13

For the kids at the Colegio, there was no school. Today was their version of parent/teacher conferences. The children come and hear the report as well.

Maria and her sponsored student on their outing

Today was also the day I went out with my sponsor child. We went to the Botanical Garden and a small museum they had there. The museum was a bunch of rooms with taxidermy animal and dead insects. On the drive there he looked out the window the entire and whenever a plane went overhead he got so excited. He’s got a pretty good eye and when in the garden he would always spot the birds or squirrels and run after them. He had been very excited to go and I’m glad he had a good time. On the way back to Safe Passage, he fell asleep… it had been a long day!

When I returned, the volunteers had a meeting with the director and after I had lunch at the Colegio. One of the teachers is going on a maternity leave since her baby is due soon, so the other teachers had a surprise baby shower for her. So much fun to be a part of that. This was my first “normal” Friday at the school so we had class meetings and then I spent some time with a few teachers. One of them quizzed me on my Spanish and in return, I quizzed her on English.

Day 18

My children (the class I am working with) have learned that I can make origami cranes with wings that flap.

For the past 2 days I’ve made so many! Today I began to teach how to do it to a few of them.

Day 23

I noticed that today I’ve been able to understand the children and teachers more than I have. Also, I have learned all 20 names of the children in my class.

Segundo B, second grade, had music class and the teacher knows I play the ukulele and the school has one so she had me play a song for them. I think it’s the quietest the class has ever been!

 

Day 27

Today was the hardest day I’ve had at Camino Seguro during my month here. I said goodbye to 20 children who I’ve laughed with, played with but most of all who I’ve grown to love with all my heart. There are 2 parts I want to share.

Maria with her second graders

One of the boys who I am close to cane up to me and gave me a giant hug and wouldn’t let go. He said Senior Maria, do you have to leave? Can you please stay? I don’t want you to go. Then I said goodbye to my sponsor child and I explained that today was my last day and that I love him. The teacher later told me that he had cried that morning because he didn’t want me to go.

I promised the 2 that I would come back. In those moments, mi corazón está rompiéndose. From the moment you step into the classroom, these children love you.

Since there were no kids in the afternoon, I had lunch with the second-grade teachers, had the afternoon meetings (kinda) and then cleaned up the classroom and changed what was on the walls. There was some extra time so the 4 of us painted our nails and took photos together. I have really enjoyed working with them. Especially Esther, I barely spoke Spanish when I arrived but she still tried to speak with me and was very patient.

On the ride home I was startled by the song/chant they do when a volunteer leaves. I was given a certificate of completion, or diploma as the coordinator calls it, with messages in the back from the other volunteers.

Read Maria’s whole blog here.

Learn more about the next Adoptive Family Week (July 18 – August 4, 2019).

Learn more about volunteering at Safe Passage.