Edi and other Safe Passage students gather around Edi's cake that a child sponsor gave to the class.
I still vividly remember my first day as a volunteer at Safe Passage. That January morning, I was assigned to work in the kitchen, as a part of me getting to know the program. I remember feeling a little bit of nervous energy, as is typical in a new setting, but looking back, I couldn’t think of a better way to have jumped into things! The morning was spent in a frenzy of activity, slicing and dicing through hundreds of vegetables for a hearty stew, mixing a giant vat of fresh fruit juice, cooking up more rice than I have ever seen in one place, chatting in Spanish, and beefing up my repertoire of Guatemalan slang and colloquialisms! I could quickly tell that the kitchen staff absolutely loves what they do, and they make a morning of hot and intense work into an experience that feels like cooking a large dinner together with your family. They definitely made me feel at home in my new environment.
And the culmination of the morning? Getting to see the grinning faces of some 600
kids, staff, and volunteers passing by the lunch window as they receive their plates piled high with food! Says kitchen staff members Luis, Grecia, and Doña Rosario, their favorite part of the job is seeing the kids enjoying the food, especially when the little ones come back for seconds and compliment them on how delicious the lunches were.
It really is heartwarming to see so many kids enjoying a filling and delicious lunch here each and every day, because receiving the adequate nutrition to develop and a having a full stomach are surely keys to success in school. In the back of one’s mind, however, it is difficult to forget that for some of our kids, the food they eat at Safe Passage may be the only consistent, substantial, and nutritious meal that they receive during the day. Some, when they return home in the evening, may have a dinner of staples such as rice, beans, tortillas, and eggs; others possibly only bread and coffee; still others a bag of chips or nothing at all.In spite of this, the kids remain incredibly generous with what they receive.
During a recent field-trip we took to the water park with a classroom of kids, we were served a delicious lunch of baked chicken, french fries, salad, and toast at the restaurant there. I began to notice that many of the kids were eating everything except the chicken. Instead, they were wrapping up the best part of their meal to take home to share with family members. Wow!! Jeanine; from Vancouver, Canada; recently told me a similar story about a boy, Edi, from the classroom that she volunteers in at Safe Passage. For a classmate’s birthday, a sponsor had left a cake for a celebration. While the rest of the kids ate happily, Edi barely touched his. Jeanine asked him why he wasn’t eating, and he said that he wanted to take it home for his mother. So, resisting the temptation to eat it, he saved his piece of cake by putting in in the tiempo fuera—time-out—chair for the entire afternoon and then brought it home. The other kids in the class certainly got a kick out of the cake passing the afternoon in “time-out.” When I think back to my childhood, growing up well-fed in a middle-class household, I am pretty positive that at 9 years old I would have chowed-down on just about any piece of cake put in front of me! Sometimes the kids really take you by surprise.
Many days have passed since I started out at Safe Passage in January, each one unique in its own ways. We all gather a wealth of memories throughout our time spent volunteering here; for Jeanine, the afternoon when a piece of cake was sacrificed to “time-out” for the sake of one’s mother, for me, a day spent at the water park with the kids; but I know that I will always remember my first day of work in the project with a special fondness. Everyone experiences points in their lives like this—new beginnings where everything around you is fresh and exciting, intimidating and disorienting, and when the possibilities that the future holds are limitless. For this reason, these times strongly linger in our memories.
Eating well in the comedor,