The following blog was written by Aryana Bolourian, a rising Junior in the Bonner Leaders Program at the Campus Y. Aryana works at the Teen Center as a Bonner; she is working with AISEC in Santiago Chile this summer through the Bonner International Summer of Service internship.
I am writing this blog after my last week at La Protectora, and my heart is heavy after having said goodbye to the Tías I worked with and children that completely won me over. I spent my final days, continuing the activities we had started the week before and enjoying every moment I had with the children. I couldn’t fathom saying goodbye to these kids…and it pained me to know that I would return to my family, friends, home, and university while many of the children were trapped in one of Chile’s most dangerous neighborhoods. I did, however, find comfort knowing they had Protectora de la Infancia to keep them happy, healthy and safe.
On Tuesday, Protectora de la Infancia was running a tree planting event to a) better Santiago’s environment, as it is a city known for its pollution, b) teach middle school and high school students about the importance of preserving nature, and c) unite various volunteer groups from around Santiago with the children from Protectora in a day of service. I arrived at Protectora’s main campus and was put in charge of a group of eight high school girls and 4 middle school boys. It was my job to teach them how to plant the trees and explain to them the environmental significance of our actions. At first I was nervous, knowing that for the past five weeks, I had only been interacting with toddlers where my intermediate level Spanish was enough to get by. I thought speaking with the older kids would be tough, but they were so helpful and understanding. They spoke slowly to me, knowing that their Chilean slang was hard to pick up on. I had a wonderful day with them, and together our group planted seventeen trees!
The next day, I returned to Protectora for my final three days with the kids. While I know the children will probably never read this, given that they are two and three years old, I want to take the time to thank them for my experience in Chile. As cliché as it sounds, they genuinely changed my life . Going abroad, I was hesitant to volunteer, knowing that many people look down on college students from the US traveling to “help” other nations in needs. I didn’t want my actions to seem selfish or uninformed, and I wanted to make sure I partook in a mutual exchange, in which I learned from the kids as much if not more than they learned from me. It took me a while to understand my place in Chile. But, as the days and weeks went on, I started to feel at home at Protectora. The kids were comfortable with me and I with them, which made saying goodbye all the harder. On my last day, the Tías threw a going away party for the volunteers and a celebration, as it was the start of their winter break. Each volunteer was asked to give a quick speech about our time there, and as tears spilled down my cheeks, I thanked them for welcoming me and for allowing me to work with the children. A few of the Tías rushed to my side to hug me, and then they presented each of the volunteers with a gift. They had taken pictures of the kids and I and compiled them into gorgeous origami boxes, one for each of us. Among the pictures were drawings the kids had made. Flipping through its pages, I reflected on my time at Protectora. I realized how fast my time here had gone.
I wish more than anything that there was more I could do for these children. I plan to send the site books and toys I can find in the US, but that just doesn’t seem like enough. I’ve even put some thought into going back after graduation and working with Protectora de la Infancia. I am inspired by the organization and their dedication to improving the lives of Chilean youth. They allow these children to escape their difficult realities and give them a place to call home. I hope to work with Protectora again or another organization similar to it in the future. While I am grappling with the question: what more can I do, I can at least find comfort knowing I built a bond with these kids that I will never forget. I also made some friendships with the Tías I plan to keep forever. Two of them were my age, and working with them was such a pleasure (they are in the picture)! I am extremely grateful I was given the opportunity to volunteer abroad, and I would like to extend my thank you to the Campus Y and Bonner Leader Program for providing me with the funds to travel. Finally, to my audience, thank you for reading my blogs this far. You can expect one more post about my trip to Argentina and travels around Chile after my time at Protectora came to a close