I remember my first day at Education and Hope. No Spanish. Lots of names and new faces. Lorena presenting me to every señora, to each administrator and to all of the classes. Every child presenting themselves by their first, middle, second middle and last names. At this point my Spanish was limited, and by limited I mean non-existent. I couldn’t respond. Part of me feels like that was a good thing. If I did the words that would have fallen out would have been a shaky reflection of how I felt- scared.
My heart filled with the fear. What if I can’t support this community in the ways I hoped to? What if I can’t learn a new language? How will I be able to communicate in my own voice given that I can’t speak a word of Spanish?
What got me through this fear was knowing, even on that first day, that I was about to enter a special community.
I remember talking with Julie for the first time. We talked about the importance of being in community, relationship building and having a values driven program. How Education and Hope is structured as an educational empowerment program where students receive individualized homework help and lunch—but how the reality is much more.
How each class supports its students with their homework—but the reality is that they are receiving the emotional support they need to persist with their studies despite life’s mounting obstacles.
How each person receives a hot meal—but the reality is that while that food nourishes the body the time in which everyone eats together nourishes the human need for community.
How everyone receives a hot shower—but the reality is that with a hot showers comes hair brushing and braiding, human touch and affection. How each material object in reality is linked back to growing and sustaining the value of community.
I remember being given the permission to sit with not knowing. To be an active bystander. I was told that it was ok to not ‘do’. Just being present to what comes was enough. So I sat—both literally and figuratively. I sat with the señoras every morning as we cut vegetables. I sat in classes with ever so patient teachers who taught me Spanish vocabulary and unconditional love. I sat figuratively with the discomfort of navigating a new culture and language. I sat with the discomfort of not knowing, which allowed me to slowly and intentionally find my place. In the same way my love grew. Slowly. Intentionally. I was given permission to sit. This may have been one of the greatest gifts I have ever been given.
I remember when I was told that the señoras wanted to learn English. I asked the women why they would like to learn English. Their genuine response was something along the lines of ‘we just want to be able to communicate with the people who come visit us here’. I remember thinking how pure and selfless that response was. The idea that the señoras wanted more human connection and closeness. I am proud to say that I experienced this type of love from them and from everyone at Education and Hope. A love that persists and grows despite your ability to communicate in words. A love that is selfless. A love that begs you to stay but understand your need to go.
I remember the different people I met as they passed through town. I once had a dance teacher who passed through the project ask me if I was there to do ‘community service’. When I heard this all I could think was yes—but in this case I am the one receiving the services.
I remember my first and my last day. I remember the tears that I cried as I said see you soon, and not goodbye.
I will remember this feeling now—the feeling in my body of knowing that I am one of the luckiest people because I had the opportunity to be a part of such a special community. Even on that first day I felt this— but now I know. I will remember.