When I first received my job offer from NPH Bolivia, it seemed that most of my time would be spent teaching children new subjects and skills, something that I was happy to do; however, one misconception that I had was that the people I would be serving would be uneducated.
Well, imagine my surprise when one of the kids here, Maximiliano, explained that he knew much more than I. “Usted no sabe nada,” which literally translates to “You do not know anything.” While it comes off a bit rude, it was actually quite true.
He would use this phrase for anything: a word I didn’t know in Spanish, a Bolivian holiday that I didn’t know existed, or ways to butcher pigs, kill snakes, and hand-cut grass. All of which were things he knew, and I did not.
It took me almost four months to realize that fulfilling my job description, teaching English and music, not only wasn’t enough for the kids, but it wasn’t enough for me either. I eventually realized that the best way I can help the children that I work and live with is to love them as powerfully as I can every single day.
It is the job description of no one here at our home, but at the same time it is the responsibility of every staff member and volunteer.
Many of our kids come from abused or neglected backgrounds. To show them what true love looks like has been my greatest challenge. Love starts with a connection, like kicking around a soccer ball or helping with math homework, and advances toward empowerment and support.
It is an incredible feeling when one of my students is giving up on a piano piece because it’s too difficult and my words are the ones that encourage them to keep trying. Experiences like this, albeit small, teach me how impactful my support can be on the children here at NPH.
The hardest part of loving our children unconditionally, however, is when I need to show them tough love. When a child calls me a bad word, cheats during an exam, or refuses to do their chores, I have to sit them down and explain to them why their behavior is unacceptable. This can be difficult, uncomfortable, and even awkward, but I do it because truly loving someone means wanting them to be the best possible person that they can be.
While I knew I was capable of loving the children here, I certainly wasn´t expecting to fall in love. Every volunteer has a house of kids that they spend most of their time with. My house is San Francisco, filled with 10 to 12-year-old boys. It took a while for them to trust me, and even longer to respect me, but every moment with them is one that I cherish.
With nine months under my belt, and eight months left in my service, a part of me is excited to go home to Chicago, sleep in my own bed, pig out on American food, and be with family and friends; however, there is a bigger part of me that is devastated to leave and explain to my boys why I won´t be tucking them in every night anymore. It will be one of the hardest things I will have to do.
The role of the volunteer is ever changing, flexible, challenging, and certainly not for everyone. But the goal of the volunteer is to love fiercely and powerfully for the short time that they are present in these kids’ lives. I hope that I will have accomplished that goal by the time I leave.
(Children’s names have been changed to protect their privacy.)