In just over two weeks, I can honestly say that I think I’ve made some progress - however little - with the kids.
Lucho seems to connect with me more than ever. As soon as he sees me he grunts and motions for me to come over, pointing to his nose. I had spent a full day with him and Yovanny last week, my attempt to allow therapy to continue smoothly for the other kids without the disruption of the higher functioning children running around, throwing toys, and jumping on the more fragile children. The morning started off with Yovanny slapping Lucho’s head, and Lucho pushing Yovanny to the ground. I reprimanded them in Spanish, explaining that we would have to play together if we were going to play at all. I picked up a toy and asked them to play together, but that didn’t work. Yovanny just ran away with the toy. I played with them both, “walking” up their arms with my fingers and counting “uno, dos, tres…” until I reached the top, and then I tickled them. They liked this so much, they started doing it to me, then to each other. I saw Lucho laugh! He was laughing, smiling, and playing with another kid. This was huge; I only ever saw him by himself, causing destruction to him or those around him in order to gain attention. I told them to hug each other, and they actually listened.
I found out that Vania was brought to Madre Teresa by the police just 3 months ago. They had found her abandoned in a home, parents nowhere to be found. I learned that this was a pretty normal story for the kids at Madre Teresa. Usually the police does a full background report with whatever information they can gather about the child, including medical/disability information from a doctor when possible. The parents leave the child alone, fearful of the shame that comes, rightfully so, with the act of abandonment. In some cases they give the child to the police. They never drop the child off directly to Madre Teresa. In many cases the family does not have enough money to support the child and the “baggage” that comes with their disability, and to them the child is essentially dead weight - a person that will consume their income without giving back in any way. It breaks my heart to hear that. I learned from Clairi that for weeks after Vania arrived, she was inconsolable. She cried silent tears, the ones that you know represent a deeper pain. I’ve seen her cry like that since then, once in the last two weeks, and it’s the most awful thing to watch knowing that she is probably remembering her home, her family. Most days though, she is the happiest kid around. She dances to the music playing in the background during therapy, tapping her shoes and bobbing her head. She entertains herself with the toys we give her. Emma and I have been helping her gain strength in her legs so that one day she may be able to walk on her own. We wrap velcro weights around each leg, and hold both her hands to give her stability as she puts one foot in front of the other. It usually takes some coaxing to get her up; she never does this part on her own accord. This past Monday (I missed the morning session), Emma told me she was walking while holding only one hand! Progress. I saw her Tuesday morning, and sure enough, she did it. She still tries to grab you with her second hand, but after saying no enough times she walks while holding only one hand. I’m so excited!
Ruth and Zoila are quite possibly the two most giggly girls. They usually sit next to each other in therapy. Ruth is 20, slightly older than 16-year-old Zoila. They have a great sense of humor. They’re usually watching when you do something stupid and hope nobody saw it, and they laugh loud! I once stepped on a lego and cracked it, startling myself. They laughed. I broke a nitrile glove as I was trying to put it on. They laughed. I tried to put a new clean yellow sweater on Ruth, but the neck hole was too small so she got stuck. They couldn’t stop laughing. Sometimes I dance around to the music playing during therapy, and I try to get them to join in while secretly making it an occupational therapy exercise (rotating their wrists, raising their arms, etc). They have a blast.
Clairi told me that Juan Daniel enjoys looking at himself in the large mirror that covers over half of one of the walls in the therapy room. Apparently a few years back, she was helping him regain strength in his legs to walk, and he was able to partially support his own weight. She asked me to support him while walking towards the mirror so that he could motivate himself. I could see his smile getting wider, his grunts getting louder as he got closer and closer to the mirror. “Vamos, tu puedes!” we cheered him on. It was difficult supporting him as he required a lot of additional support under his arms to keep him upright. Unfortunately, he had lost a lot of the strength that Clairi remembers him having several years ago. I hope I can continue to help him move forward on that front.
Now that I had some experience with the children, I was hoping to work on a more sustainable project for Madre Teresa that would help them even after our generation of volunteers return home. I spoke to a couple of the nuns, as well as Clairi about ideas, but I was worried that this was a more sensitive topic to broach. I wanted to talk about what problems they saw that could use some fixing, but I didn’t want to come across as an outsider dictating a list of problems. I only worked 4 hours a day, 4 days a week, for 2 weeks (at this point). Compared to the years, even decades that the nuns knew some of these children I felt awkward telling them what to do. I tried to approach the conversation as more of a discussion, asking them what their thoughts were. I’m not sure if something was lost in translation (as I was speaking fully in Spanish), or if I caught them off guard, or if nobody had asked them something like this before, but my question was received with blank stares and requests for examples. Though I had some ideas, I felt like it wasn’t my place to give them a list of project ideas. Rather, I wanted to talk about the problems and brainstorm solutions together, but this was a lot harder than I thought in Spanish. I ended up listing out some example projects, but I was met with a list of reasons why each would not be very impactful. I knew from the beginning that it wasn’t the right approach, but hey, they asked. One of the nuns suggested we could donate a wheelchair for one of the kids who had outgrown theirs. Definitely a good thing to do, but I was thinking of a different type of "project". The nun said I could speak with another therapist, Chris, when she returns from vacation. Keeping my fingers crossed that we can make some more progress in my last couple weeks!