Monday, August 16, 2010

Alice and Bethan’s Summer Holiday

Alice is my grand-daughter and she and her friend Bethan – both 18 year olds have just left school, are waiting for their A level results and opted to spend their summer holiday working in an orphanage in Mexico. Here is Alice’s account:-

Puerto Vallarta is a city in Jalisco, Mexico where I spent 3 weeks this summer, volunteering at an orphanage with a friend. It has many of the marks of a popular American tourist destination, and yet manages to maintain the charm of a small Mexican town, rich in culture and traditional values.

The orphanage we worked at was a short bus ride from the centre, or Malecon, but it was almost like a different country. The Malecon is home to beautiful beaches, scattered with local people trying to sell bracelets, small toys and fake tattoos to anyone and everyone (the phrase 'no gracias' could be repeated hundreds of times during a day at the beach!) The centre also contains bars, restaurants and souvenir shops where I shamelessly purchased unnecessary Mexican paraphernalia: sombreros, maracas, the lot.

The orphanage was located in a small residential area, placed at the top of a steep slope, the walk up to which was often more tiring than the subsequent 5 hour shift, particularly when you consider the 35 degree heat.

Although I don't speak any Spanish, there wasn't a real language barrier with the kids.

I organised my volunteer work with a British company, and there were around 35 other British volunteers at the orphanage, so the children are used to English speaking volunteers and, although they don't really speak any English, there is a certain universal level of understanding. Some phrases you would pick up in your first shift, such as "caballito!" from the mouth of an excited child, caballito meaning piggyback, and "no los hagas!" being said by one of the nannies, which means 'don't do that.'

Day to day work at the orphanage was so rewarding; sometimes you would spend the day just sitting with the children reading or watching a bit of television before going to play outside, but you always came away feeling you'd been a huge help (and also very tired!)

All the children were real characters, within a few days you would know who to look out for and who were the cheeky ones. There was Angel for example, ironically named since he had a bit of a temper and the only English he knew was "stinky," which he'd shout at all the volunteers at least once a day. Still, his personality really shone through, and after a few days with him I ended up teaching him numbers; he learnt 1 - 10 in English and he taught me 1 - 10 in Spanish, so we both came away with something!

At times the work was quite heartbreaking. Hearing some of the children's stories made me truly appreciate how blessed I am to have my family supporting me. Some of the children suffered from mental disorders and physical disabilities. They had such a sense of fun though; I could spend a whole shift outside with them, laughing and playing, and then feel guilty for calling it work!

I'd really love to do something similar again, and am already thinking about next summer. Working with children has always appealed to me and my time at the orphanage definitely confirmed this interest.

Below are a few pictures from my time there. The children adored having their picture taken, often trying to grab the camera themselves. They also had a fondness for taking volunteers sunglasses, which you can see from the photos!


R. Sherman said...

So, I take a few days off and you post like crazy.

It sounds like your granddaughter had a rewarding time. I'm sure she'll remember it always.


Ché l'écossais said...

That was a pretty touching account.

Kids these days, they seem to be smarter than us.
Well OK, not us, me.

We thought holidays involved crappy sex, cheap drugs and bad disco music.

She will go far - you must be proud.

Points for being Metric.



Pat said...

Randall: I think she will. I posted more than I expected because other things are erupting and I thought I would be too busy so if there is an absence that's the reason.

Che: I am proud:)

OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

Alice sounds really wonderful...Her descriptive writing made me feel I was right there with her...! And the pictures are so very sweet...!
You know "WILL" Who does our lunches..He volunteers at an Orphanage in Mexico too---Brings them all sorts of stuff from the States, etc. Wouldn't it be amazing if it was the same Orphanage....! What is the name of it Pat?

A letter like this must make your heart swell with pride. Your Grandaughter is a gem...!

Pat said...

Naomi:Alice would be the first to admit she is an ordinary teenager who just happens to enjoy working with children. Not at all saint-like;)
The Orphanage is: REFUGIO INFANTIL SANTA ESPERANZA, A.C. (R.I.S.E.), is a home for abandoned children and those who were removed from violent domestic situations where there had been abuse.
Do let me know if it is the same that Will goes to. He must be pretty special too.

mapstew said...

Well done to the girls, there are quite a lot of good teenagers about. :¬)


Luna said...

Pat, you must be very proud. Kudos to Alice and Bethan. It's heartwarming to read about how much they touched the children's lives and how touched they were by this invaluable experience. These two young ladies willgo far. :)

Eryl Shields said...

Lovely, uplifting, account. I'm particularly fond of the phrase: "I shamelessly purchased unnecessary Mexican paraphernalia..."

Pat said...

Mapstew: yes it's great isn't it?

Luna: they are both waiting to hear their fate as regards A level results which come out this week.

Eryl: that's Alice! She was a tiny little girl and I can't tell you how often she had me in stitches.

Maggie said...

Thank you so much for posting this with the pictures. Right now, most of us locals won't go across the border because of the drug wars. It's wonderful to see the other side. Gracias.

Pat said...

Maggie: I'm so glad I didn't know about this before Alice went. I think the most frightening thing she saw was the odd cockroach.

sablonneuse said...

Thank you for sharing news of Alice. It sounds like hard work even if it can be fun. Good for her for taking it on. No wonder you're proud of her.

Pat said...

Sandy: it was a pleasure;)

OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

Pat....I asked "Will" and it is NOT the same Orphanage. The one he helps is near Ensenada, which is close to the California border--Well, closer than where Alice was....! That certainly would have been amazing, wouldn't it, if it had been the same one.

Guyana-Gyal said...

I want to go to Mexico, I have a friend who's been there and she says the people are the friendliest, the nicest she's ever met. Ever, ever. She's been travelling around a bit because of her job, going to different countries.

I'm still laughing at Angel and his 'stinky' remark.

What I like is the way the people have 'managed to maintain the charm of a small Mexican town, rich in culture and traditional values.'

Pat, you have every right to be proud of Alice.

Pat said...

GG: I suspect if only I had a baby or a little child I would see much more of Alice. Deep sigh!