Mexico City, Mexico
Yolia: corazón de mujer; heart of a woman. That is the name of the Salesian site I volunteer at here in México City. The founders of Yolia wanted to bring Don Bosco’s work to the girls on the street in Mexico City because most Salesian run oratories are only set up for boys. Our mission is to help girls, from the street or high-risk family situations, to develop as women while learning to become honest citizens and good Christians. We are working to prepare the girls to be future mothers and educators.
I have been here six months already. I can hardly believe it. Time moves so fast. My life here is totally different from anything I have ever known but it is a life I love and am very grateful for. Every single day is a new challenge and a new opportunity to live life to the fullest; to follow the path God has laid out for me.
Adjusting to life here was difficult at first: the food was different, waking up early every morning was different, my family not being an easy phone call away was totally different. But I think that the hardest lesson I am still learning is just to be here. To be. It is such a simple verb, frequently used, but so important. In Spanish, there are two forms of to be: ser and estar. Ser is to be who and what you are. It is being all that God graced you with and all you have made yourself. Estar on the other hand is to be in a place or in a more temporary state. This is the form of to be that I am learning continuously here. When I first arrived in September, my director told me that most of my “job” would be “estar con las niñas,” to be with the girls. As simple as it sounds, it is definitely the opposite.
My mornings here are busy and at these times it is easy to be here. I teach English class, which scared me at first because well, I was a neuroscience major, what do I know about teaching and making lesson plans. Now, I love teaching and am seriously considering it as part of my future. But that hour of class, followed by an hour of reading out loud with the girls, followed by getting the girls ready for school and cooking lunch (which is the biggest meal of the day), is the easiest part of the day. I am busy and doing something all morning. And because of my American upbringing, I am most at ease doing something. I feel useful. The afternoons, which in some ways are more relaxed than the mornings, tend to be more difficult for me. I am constantly wondering what I should be doing, or what I could do- when all I really need to do is just be here; just be with the girls. Although I know that all I have to do is be here, I sometimes still feel useless and I have to learn this same lesson over and over.
In Yolia, our number of girls varies. Right now, we have ten girls that live here. Each one in their own way teaches me about how to just be, but no one more than Ana Bélen. Normally the girls we take in are adolescents, but Ana is just three years old. Through a series of difficult events in her short life, Ana lives with us while her mother does not. Ana’s mom is eighteen years old and recently finished a rehab program. She is working to some day be able to live with Ana on their own.
Ana arrived here two weeks after I did. She had lived here before but when I arrived, she and her mother were living in another institution for single mothers and their children. When Ana arrived, she was very much still a baby. She has grown up so much so quickly, and her mother is missing it. Ana now eats on her own, she doesn’t need a diaper, she helps with chores and she goes to school. She isn’t a baby anymore. She is a little girl. As tiny as she is physically, she has a big mouth and an opinion about everything.
I spend so much time with Ana that I sometimes feel like she is my daughter. I am responsible for picking her up from school, making sure she eats, keeping her entertained and out of trouble all afternoon, bathing her, and getting her ready for bed. It is exhausting having a three year old. She always needs someone to be with her, even in the bathroom. Sometimes she needs someone else to help her, with carrying her dishes to the kitchen or picking out her clothes for example, but mostly she just needs someone to be with her, to listen to her, to play with her, and to love her. Ana loves to laugh and play, but she does not like to do these things alone. Even if she is putting together the same Winnie the Pooh puzzle for the five hundreth time, she needs someone to sit with her and act like it is the first time every time. This is how Ana teaches me to just be. Sometimes she doesn’t need me to do things for her, she just wants me to be there with her. When she is laughing and playing, it isn’t so hard, but the fits she throws and the times she cries completely frustrate me. Sometimes she cries for something real, because she misses her mom. Mostly, she cries when she doesn’t get what she wants. And then I always feel useless. I am still learning that I can not always do something. Sometimes I just have to be.
At the end of the day, after all of the fits and the crying and the playing of the same game over and over, I still can’t help but thank God for the incredible opportunity to be a part of Ana’s life, to be with her everyday, watching her grow and develop her own personality. But when I hold her in my arms and put her to bed, I also can’t help but pray that some day soon her mom will be able to do what I am doing in her place.
I often wonder about Ana’s future, if she will even remember me after I finally leave. She is only three after all. But I know that I will be forever grateful that our lives inter-twined and I will never forget her or the lessons in life, love, patience, and just being that her and all of my other girls have taught me.