Well, I've returned home. The summer is over. I didn't blog once, despite my never ending thought, "I should probably write all of these things down." Regardless, here I am. As usual, there is one pressing thing on my mind, and that would be the sweet kids I have the privilege of knowing and loving, in Ecuador. It is time for me to write some of my experiences down, in hopes that I don't forget them.
For those of you who don't know.. which would be slightly strange, because it seems like Ecuador is all I talk about.. anyway. This summer I was able to return to Ecuador, and refill and refuel my heart and soul. It's strange how it worked out, but I think the universe knew that is where I needed to be, and made it happen. I thank my lucky stars, every single day, that I was able to spend more time with these incredibly influential kids.
I want to share one story in particular.. that I think captures every one of my feelings, regarding Ecuador.
Though I like to tell myself I love all of the orphans equally, it would be a lie to say, we don't all develop "a favorite." When I was heading down there, I didn't think I would be able to love the kids I'd be working with this time, as much as I loved the kids I worked with last time. All but four of the children I worked with last year, have been adopted or returned to their families. I couldn't imagine being able to love these new children equally. I was proven wrong, quickly. These kids captured my heart, quicker than I thought possible. There was one sweet girl, six years old, and one of the quirkiest little kids I have ever met, (probably why I love her so much.) She is newer to the orphanage. She cries often and talks about her family, daily. There was one day I remember walking out and seeing her crying at a table by herself. I asked if she wanted to make some butterflies with me, out of coffee filters. She nodded her head, and we began making (what seemed like a million,) butterflies. She didn't say much, but I saw how proud she was of herself, when she completed one. Though not often, there were glimpses of a smile I was able to see, and my love for this sweet girl began to grow.
From then on we were friends. She would introduce me to the other kids as her friend from the United States, and would get offended if anyone else claimed me as their friend. It never got old to hear, "AMIIIIGAAA" as I walked outside each day. Her nasally voice and goofy smile are permanently engrained onto my heart. This summer I was flying back and forth between cities and had to explain to a tear stained face, multiple times, that I would be back in a week or two.
There was a day that I was sick inside and sent my girls to shift, as I stayed back to rest. A friend later recalled this story to me. She went outside to play with the other volunteers and kids, and saw my sweet six year old, best friend, crying. This was fairly normal, but she went over to talk to her. The volunteer asked her what was wrong, and she replied in her best storytelling voice (which let me tell you, she had down, almost perfectly.) She said that she couldn't find her best friend, she thinks she left to the United States. The volunteer knew that this goof ball and I were buddies and so she described me to her asking if that's who she was talking about. With her little lisp, she replied "si." This volunteer quickly explained that I had not left, but was just sick inside and couldn't play today. The tears stopped and my best friend, ran off to play.
As the volunteer told me this story, I couldn't help but smile. I was so happy to know that the love was mutual. I had the best friend in the whole world. Not long after the smile appeared on my face, it left. My heart sank as I thought about the story that had just been told to me. I thanked my friend for telling me and walked away. Tears filled my eyes, as I remembered that one day I would be leaving. One day, her best friend, really would leave to the United States. One day, she wouldn't be able to find her, because she would be gone. I would be gone. These kids are familiar with the feeling of abandonment. Their families walk out on them. The volunteers come for a period of time, and then they too, walk out on them. The nuns, the workers, no one stays forever. We all have our lives to return to. But, as we all get to leave, they stay there. They stay there with the instability and uncertainty, until one day they learn, that no one ever really stays. I can only love them and be there for them for so long. I cried to my mom numerous times this summer that it isn't fair. They don't deserve this. My kids, my best friend, they deserve a family. They deserve constant love. It isn't fair for me to leave, when they don't have that choice. I will love them forever and feel eternally indebted towards them, for the lessons they have taught me. I hate that I can leave. I hate that I did leave. I wish I could be the person that stood by their side forever. No, I don't doubt that my sweet six year old won't gain a new best friend. I know that other volunteers will come and love her as I did, and she will have numerous best friends.. but I never wanted to reintroduce the feeling of abandonment to any kid, ever.
It's an internal debate I have, often. Did I do more harm than good. Did I love the correct way. Did I surface feelings that these children are put through time and time again.
If I could have stayed, I would have. If I could have loved her as a family should, I would have. I will pray and hope every single day, that she and all the other kids, will remember that someone, somewhere in the world, loves them. I don't want them to feel alone, abandoned, or without love. I want the world for them. I want them to remember that they taught me more and did more good in my life, than most people will. I want them to know they are worthy of love. I want them to know that someone 5,671 kilometers away, is rooting for them.. forever. I want them to know that I will be proud of them and love them through their entire lives, whether I get to be part of it or not.
It's a different kind of work. It takes a different toll on my body than I had ever imagined. These kids, break, but fuel my heart each and every day. I hate being away from them. I hate that I had to leave.
I am the luckiest girl in the world to get to call these kids my friends.. More than that, my family. I am the luckiest girl in the world to be able to miss and love these kids for the rest of my life. I am the luckiest girl in the world, to have the best six year old, best friend, that loved me, regardless of my flaws. I'm sure grateful for that day that I got to make what seemed like a million butterflies.. and I'm grateful for every memory after that.
I pray that I will never take my loved ones for granted. I pray that I will never forget the pure, eternal love, these kids, and my best friend, taught me this summer.