International volunteer Zena Lapp puts you in our kids shoes with this story!
There are so many facets of life at NPH Bolivia that it is impossible to capture my volunteer experience with any one story. So instead of telling you a story, I’m going to have you imagine something.
Imagine that, at the age of two, the government decided that your parents didn’t have the resources to take care of you and your two older siblings. They put you in a home with children who come from similar situations. You don’t remember much about your first few years in the home, but you do remember that there were always people taking care of you, holding you, hugging you. You remember playing with the other children, going to birthday parties, drawing pictures, and eventually starting school. You moved into a different house with a new caregiver and children similar to you in age. You began doing chores, you got to eat meals with your biological siblings on the weekends, you started playing football regularly, and you realized that many of those pictures you drew as a child were for your godparents from other countries. You also began to realize that some of the people you interact with are volunteers and visitors who are there to get to know you and to work at the home alongside the local staff. In addition to your caregivers, you began to have meaningful relationships with some of your godparents and some of the volunteers. Your godparents are one of the only constants in your life. They write regularly, they ask you how you are, and they teach you about life in their country. On the other hand, the volunteers and visitors come and go, but you still learn a lot from them. You see how people from other places and backgrounds may be different in some ways, but that in many ways they are similar to you. They like to play, laugh, and tell stories. They teach you, without you realizing it, important lessons about cultural diversity. You understand, years later, that because of those collective experiences, you have gained a cultural awareness that you wouldn’t otherwise have had.
One of the questions that I have struggled with in my time here is, “Are all the resources that I have spent just to be here offset by the difference that I have made in the lives of the children?” The simplest answer may be that the cost of a volunteer is much less than the cost of an employee, signifying that NPH saves a lot of money by having volunteers. Or it is possible that something I said or did might have had a direct impact on one or some of the children; I try to be a good role model for them. But I think what may be even more important is the window that we share into each other’s world.
Maya Angelou, a poet and award-winning author, once said: “It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.” NPH is doing just that by exposing our children to people from cultures that are vastly different from their own.