And so begins my entries on my service internship.
My work will be at a “dining hall” for children in a less fortunate neighborhood, through a program called Cáritas which is sponsored through the catholic church. Cáritas also runs pharmacies and other social services. Mine is called Comedor Infantíl/children’s dining hall. It is essentially a place open from 10-1 every day, where kids ages 3-12 come, and we do a little bit of organized activity, and serve them lunch. My location is run by two nuns, Abigail (a bit more reserved, indigenous looking woman from Mexico), and Nicole (the whitest Dominican I’ve ever seen, from Santo Domingo - she has a larger frame and she is extremely playful with the children).
It was a bit of a shock, working with nuns. If I haven’t evaded to it already in this blog, probably my biggest shock in coming here to this country has been how much christianity has been put in front of me. It’s made me ask a lot of questions about my beliefs, though no matter what my answers to those questions may be, I know I’m not at all close to catholicism. I like these two woman though. They show me a lot of respect and love already: an affectionate hand on my back while coloring with the kids, quick to answer any questions, and lots of patience for what I don’t understand. They have not asked me any questions about my religion, and apart from prayers at the start of the day and before lunch, their is not much christianity pressed upon the children. They are not rigid like I expected nuns to be - they join in on the games, and hold the young ones upside down by the ankles (quite the site to see, as they’re wearing their habits).
Yesterday was my first day, and when I got there I found out the Comedor was closed for the day, because every Monday and Thursday this month the nuns are doing house visits to the homes of the children. So, I accompanied the sisters (they’re called monjas … think: female monk) to about 6 houses yesterday before meeting any of the children. This was very interesting, because otherwise I would have no business in houses, streets, or neighborhoods such as these. We would go and ask them how many people lived there, who worked at the house, where the dad was, etc., so that the nuns could document what home life is like for each of the kids (though I think they have a pretty good idea anyway).
Zero of the homes that we went to had a father present. Many of the woman didn’t know who the fathers were. Some of them claimed that their boyfriends helped a lot and that they cared for the children very much. Some of the mothers were not home, as they were out “working”, if you know what I’m saying, so we would talk to the neighbor or who ever was around. Two of the kids really struck a chord with me, Jorge & Emmanuel, 4 & 3 respectively. Their mom was not home so we talked to the woman who lived across the alley from them who knew the situation better. She explained that the mom didn’t know who either of the fathers were, and that the mom was hardly ever home. Jorge gave me a big hug and asked for a sip from my water bottle, so I gave him the last sip without hesitation. Emmanuel sat on my lap for the entirety of our conversation. He’s 3, but a tiny 3, and he has a long blonde pony tail which is extremely rare. Everywhere I go in this country people call out “rubia!” (blonde!), and for a lot of people in less advanced neighborhoods, blonde hair is something they’ve only seen on billboards or in pictures. The girls at the Comedor are constantly touching my head, almost in wonder. I think nobody will cut his blonde hair because it is so well cherished.
Today at the Comedor, Jorge and Emmanuel both gave me a big hug when they walked in. Jorge has a big bald spot and when I asked about it sister Nicole said it was from a fungus and now hair doesn’t grow there. Later she was applying a cream to Emmanuel’s back and called me over to show that there was a fungus or a ringworm or a bacteria, or something growing under his skin. She goes, oh yeah, I was meaning to say, don’t share your water bottle with them - it could be harmful to your health. She asked me to walk them home at the end of the day (everyone lives within a few minutes from the school). I carried Emmanuel and held Jorge’s hand - everyone was saying that Emmanuel looked like my son. There was no one at home to receive them, except for the same neighbor so I left them there. Day two and I already had this intense urge to bring them back home to the states with me.
There were only about 15 kids today - there are less in the summer, but the monja said today there was a particularly low attendance. The children are divided into two groups - the chicititos, the 3, 4, 5 year olds, and the grandes, 6-12. When I got there early this morning, there was just the cook (who is strictly the cook and doesn’t interact with the children), and a really small boy sitting down by himself. I tried talking to him all I could get out of him was his name and three fingers held up when I asked his age. I asked the cook how I could be of help and she said I could sweep. I grabbed the broom and dust pan and when I started sweeping the boy ran over and took the dust pan, holding it and following me around the room as I swept, without saying a word. So cute. All of the big kids had a job - one girl helped the cook, one boy cleared all the dishes, and three of the big girls did the dishes. One boy was particularly dirty and sort of slow behaving, and I noticed that Sister Nicole sent him home with the left overs. One of the boys was making an absolute mess and the sister looked at me and was like yeah, he actually doesn’t know how to eat. I started watching him and realized that she was right, it was absolute chaos. If he’s ever sat down and had a meal at home, it was evident that no one had ever watched him or taught him how to put a fork in his mouth.
To get to this neighborhood, I have to walk through the PUCMM (the University I was attending), which takes about 20 minutes, then take 2 conchos with a little walking in between, but the last concho brings me right to the Comedor. All in all, it takes 45 minutes at the least, and could be more depending on the conchos - if it takes me a few minutes to catch one, or if they make a lot of stops. It’s nice though, because I feel like I’m more a part of the city than I was when I was just walking to school every day.
So as you can see, my first impressions include lots of positives feelings and lots of sad ones. I know this work is going to be challenging, but the children are really happy, and I think it will be important to focus on that. I’ve already started brain storming certain activities I can do with them. It’s not strictly expected of me, but the nuns don’t have an academic curriculum so I’m sure they get tired of making up activities. My expectations are to facilitate positive conversation about morals, academics, priorities, and futures, and of course to help with activities and keep them well behaved.
I know this was a long post, but I hope you enjoyed hearing about my new internship.