Hi, my name is Emily, I am 23 years old, married, from Chicago, and a returning volunteer at Casa de los Angeles. My first visit was just 3 months ago in March, when I came with my younger sister for one week. This first visit held a lot of “firsts” for the both of us. It was my sister’s first plane ride, her first time on an international service experience, and my first time in Mexico. We spent the week basically soaking in all the “newness” of San Miguel, Casa, and Santa Julia. Every day was filled with cultural adjustments and trying to find our bearings in a short amount of time. The highlight of this visit, of course, were the children. I spent time with the almost 2 year olds while she was with 3 year olds and we had a blast from 9-3 all week. As we boarded the shuttle to leave on our final day, I was eager to return in June.
This time, I had the opportunity to stay for 2 weeks. Already having a decent understanding of Santa Julia and the streets of the Centro from my first visit, I was ready to dive into 2 weeks full of solo-adventuring around SMA and loving on everyone at the daycare! I picked up Que Pasa, the community calendar for the week and went on tours, played Gringo Bingo, and participated in both Jueves de Cuerpo (Corpus Christi) and Dia de los Locos. There were a few other volunteers here during my two weeks and getting to know them was very special. The relationships that are built by living in the volunteer house contribute to the broadening of your perspective that happens when you spend time at Casa. But all those experiences, although memorable, can’t hold a candle to my time in the daycare.
The first week, I helped out Maestra Lola with the 1 year olds. Wow, these little ones are bursting with personality! Maestra Lola is an example of dedication and family values. She’s been at the guarderia since the beginning, and although she may seem stoic, her passion for taking care of the children and investing in their mothers’ lives is evident in her daily commitment to Casa. We got into a rhythm by the end of the week in the classroom and then it was time to lend a hand in a different room! I was assigned my second week in Maestra Cinthia’s room, the youngest babies. I wasn’t sure what we would do for 6 hours out of the day with these babies but they kept us busy! I quickly realized, all my job was in that room, and in any, is to love on them as much as possible. They were going to be away from their parents for the day, the best thing that us as volunteers could give them is our attention and affection. When their moms came to pick them up, it was so fun to see how their faces would light up! The baby who may have been crying all afternoon would starting squealing with excitement and dancing around the second they caught a glimpse of their mama! The moms, most of whom are single parents, not only work as much as they can to support their family but they also put in an hour of service at the daycare each day in order to ensure their child has a place to be cared for while they are away. The sacrifices they make have moved me deeply.
What are my top lessons from these past two weeks? First, you just have to go for it. What I mean is, put yourself 100% into every moment. Be present in the classrooms, make the most of your siesta time, and take advantage of everything SMA has to offer on the nights and weekends. Second, connection is necessary. The relationships you build here, even if they are short term relationships, will impact you more than the physical work you do. Take time to get to know the other volunteers, the maestras, and mama’s. People’s stories can change your perspective or at least enhance it. And lastly, be willing to receive. You may choose to spend time here because you want to help, and you most definitely will. However, a lesson I learned was to allow myself to not only be “the helper” but also to become “the helped”. As you are giving love, allow yourself to acknowledge the love and respect you are given in return. Casa de los Angeles is a place only made possible by the strongest women and men in the community working in partnership with the grace of God. By opening myself to not only give but to receive, these two fast weeks have been tremendous blessings that I am very thankful to have been given. Hasta pronto, Casa!