To Love and Be Loved: 1st Week of Work

18 Jan

This past week marked the beginning of an integral piece of my time in Nicaragua and life as a Jesuit Volunteer—my first time at my work placement.  And let me just say, I could not be more excited about the fact that I left Pajarito Azul with a huge smile everyday this week and last week, so much so, that the crowded bus rides home could not dismantle it.

 

Pajarito Azul, as I described in a previous post, is a residency of around 100 people (niños y adultos) who have mental and/or physical disabilities.  It is a place that provides protection for residents who were in at-risk or abusive situations, as well as a home for those who have been abandoned (a majority of the residents).  There are 8 different dormitories at Pajarito with around 10 residents in each.  There is also a finca (farm) not too far from Pajarito with 15 male residents that I will spend time with, más o menos twice a month.  Each dormitory at Pajarito has one educadora or care-taker at a given time and these women work 24 hour shifts, meaning that there is a new educadora each day, but many of the women work twice a week in their dormitory or hogar.

 

As a residency, Pajarito provides many services.  Some residents attend school outside of Pajarito during part of the day and many of those residents, including others, have educational reinforcement time at Pajarito with teachers.  There is also a space for physical therapy with 3 physical therapists, a psychologist that works one on one as well as in groups with residents, a full-time nurse, a center for making handcrafts with teachers, a graphic screening center, and bakery where some of the residents work (the products created at these last 3 places are sold to help Pajarito run).  And of course, another service being volunteers.  That’s where I come in.  My job will be organizing and running activities with various residents for additional mental/physical stimulation, as well as general time with people and affection/attention.  Some of the activities include giving massages, storytime, walks, recycled jewelry making, recycled card making, yoga, sports, coloring, etc.  Another aspect of my time will be working directly with 10 or so residents in a group called Casa Base.  My time with Casa Base means that I will accompany the residents outside of Pajarito to a house in the surrounding neighborhood for various activities each Wednesday.  The purpose of Casa Base is two-folded; it both enables residents to get outside of Pajarito, while also making residents a part of the larger community in hopes to break stigmas surrounding those with special needs.  I am very eager to begin this activity in February.

 

But now, back to this past week…

I entered Pajarito this past Monday a little nervous, but very excited.  Upon entering, I was immediately greeted with hugs and kisses from residents who had remembered me from the two other short visits to Pajarito my first week in Nica, which really helped to eliminate any remaining nerves I had.  I met with my supervisor to learn a little more about Pajarito and to go over my orientation plan.  We decided that I would spend 2 days in each hogar (dormitory) in order to get to know residents and educadoras.

 

This past Monday and Tuesday I was in Hogar Ositos with some of the younger and more physically disabled residents (the ages in Ositos range from 5-19).  I took many of the residents for walks around Pajarito’s grounds, read, and played.  Ositos is also where I will help with lunch distribution during my time at Pajarito.  Helping with lunch consists of mashing/pulling apart the meal to make it easier for residents to eat and then feeding a couple of the residents who cannot eat on their own.  My next two days were spent in Hogar Gaviotas #1 with women ages 17-37.  I did many of the same activities with these residents, but also gave 2 yoga classes and a couple of massages to other residents.  Additionally, I was also able to accompany some residents to mass this past Thursday at a church that is a 30 min. walk from Pajarito.  I will help with this activity when it occurs every 1st Thursday of the month.  Similar to Casa Base, this is another way to get those in Pajarito a part of the larger surrounding neighborhood as well as stimulation for residents.

 

As I mentioned previously, I had a wonderful week in which I truly felt as though I have started to develop relationships with the educadoras and residents.

 

Pajarito is a wonderful place overflowing with so much love, hope, and beauty.  I also believe my work here to be challenging in many ways, as Pajarito is also paradoxically a place where many residents lack: friendship and attention, as well as the ability to express oneself (some only expressing themselves in the form of screaming, hitting, or other aggression).  There is also the difficulty that comes with caretaking in general—helping to feed or be with residents who cannot control their body or bodily functions.  It can be jarring at times and requires gentle patience with myself and others.  However, despite these emotionally challenging aspects and various injustices, I left and leave Pajarito filled with love.  And that is the message—that no matter the situation, I need to be a well of love for each resident, opening up myself to give and receive love. Because that is the justice each person deserves, to be loved, and where I can “situate myself right next to the disposable so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away” (Fr. Greg Boyle).

It was a great week and this week is also proving to be equally wonderful—it’s a great feeling to be eager to get back to Pajarito each day.

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