With only one week left at Hogar Amantaní, I want to take a step back and look at some of the goals I’ve set for myself in the past. From the beginning, one of my main goals has been to build relationships with the kids and the staff, and I really do feel that I’ve made strides toward this objective. When I first set this goal for myself, I doubted myself in the back of my head, especially because I thought it would be nearly impossible to form any type of relationship with Lupe other than boss and volunteer. The first few days, she would solely tell me what to do very coldly, consistently told me when I was cleaning something or handling a situation wrong, and kept questioning my ability to speak Spanish. Even though this was frustrating, I knew that as a volunteer I had to stay focused on what Amantaní needed and that two months was a sufficient amount of time to work on building relationships through my work. A couple weeks in, Lupe said “Gracias” to me when I left for the first time. The feeling I got when she thanked me for my work was like getting praise from a very tough sports coach. She does not say thank you to me everyday, so every time she does means a lot to me. This past Tuesday, she had to leave and Katy and I were alone with the kids. When I left that day, she thanked me twice. It is very satisfying to know that my hard work is appreciated. I have also gotten to talk to and laugh with Lupe and every one of these moments is very special to me. I remember being afraid of her reaction when I had to tell her that I wasn’t going to be at work one Friday because I was going to Macchu Picchu only to find that she would wish me a good trip. The next week, she remembered that I went away and asked me how it was. Even though I initially thought that furthering my relationship with Lupe would be impossible, I proved myself wrong with hard work and patience. I have also formed a solid relationship with Sra. Antonia, the cook at Amantaní. Whenever I’m not with the kids, I’m usually in the kitchen cleaning, washing dishes, or acting as an extra set of hands to prepare the food. Even though I’ve never peeled a potato, shredded a carrot, or squeezed oranges to make juice before this summer, I think that Sra. Antonia can see and appreciate my willingness to learn and work. And of course, I’ve formed many relationships with the kids. I love walking into Amantaní every morning and being greeted by hugs and little voices screaming “Hola Mammi Gianna! (pronounced more like Jonnah)”
Another one of the goals that I set for myself was to eventually be able to take initiative with confidence. I think that the length of time that I spent working at Amantaní made it possible for me to achieve this goal. I spent the first couple of weeks observing the ways that the staff interacted with the kids and learning the daily routine. Now, as the only volunteer with a group of 15 kids for the final two weeks, I am often left alone with most of the kids throughout the day. For example, in the mornings, all of the kids go through their morning routine of bathing, getting dressed, and brushing their teeth. Usually, Lupe is upstairs trying to get all the kids through their routines while I am downstairs with the kids who have finished. I have to sit them down for a snack at 9:30 AM everyday which is not easy. I have finally learned that reading a book while waiting for the snack to be prepared keeps them calm and now take the initiative to read everyday while we are waiting. This is only one of many examples of when I have to think on my feet and make decisions to keep the day running smoothly with the kids.
One of my initial goals that I have probably struggled the most with achieving was to become an authority figure at Amantaní. Although I feel like I have achieved this goal, I know that I will never be respected as much as the full-time employees. The other day when Katy and I were left alone with the kids, getting them to eat lunch was almost impossible. Even when Lupe was absent for a week, another full-time employee took on her role. She could get the kids to eat when none of us volunteers could. Even though this made Tuesday’s lunch extremely frustrating, it is very understandable. Some of the employees, such as Sra. Antonia, the cook, have worked at Amantaní for over ten years, meaning they have watched some of the kids grow up and have been constant figures in their lives. On the other hand, my goal that has been the easiest to achieve was to love the kids unconditionally. Their spontaneous hugs and affectionate smiles make them so easy to love.
I definitely feel like this experience has pushed me to become a more patient person. Before this summer, I never would have described myself as patient. I’ve learned that when it comes to fifteen kids, being able to describe a period of time as “controlled chaos” is a huge accomplishment. When a kid is having a tantrum, there really is almost nothing you can do except take a deep breathe and wait for them to calm themselves down. I would be lying if I didn’t say that it could be excruciatingly frustrating when a kid starts screaming when I put a spoonful of food in their mouth or starts pounding on the floor when they don’t want to sit on their potty training toilets. However, when situations arise I try to remind myself that I’ve been able to handle similar incidents in the past with patience and persistence.
I really do think that I came into Amantaní with an open mind. Like I said before, through observing the staff I was able to learn my role and begin to take initiative more and more. When I’m at work, it never crosses my mind that the kid I’m feeding or changing or holding is an orphan because the task at hand usually requires my complete focus.
I find it funny to think that in the past I never would have described myself as a person that is good with kids or even as a person that likes kids. The way I’ve been able to love the kids at Amantaní truly has shown me a piece of myself that I didn’t know existed.