The Monday of finals week, I visited my service site for one of the last times. I was pushing two little girls, Elizabeth and Carolina, both around the age of 7, in a double stroller. As I walked them around Ángeles de CONANI, the orphanage for kids with disabilities that the girls call home, Juan, the director of the orphanage, approached me. He told me that a group of kids was at the park down the street and suggested that I join them. I did not tell him that I already knew there was a group of kids at the park and that I had chosen not to go. At CONANI, there are a group of children that go to the park on a regular basis. The other kids, many due to the fact they are less mobile, get left behind. I figured that I would stay and play with those kids. When Juan told me I should go to the park, I went out on a limb.
“¿Puedo traer Elizabeth y Carolina?” Can I bring Elizabeth and Carolina?
After a brief moment of consideration, Juan smiled and responded, “Si!” Yes!
I immediately brought the girls to the front gate. I was as excited as the girls were confused. I told them we were going to the park, but they seemed a little concerned as I wheeled them outside of CONANI’s safe walls. After we were outside for about 30 seconds, the girls became excited too. They could not stop laughing. I wrestled with the wide double stroller down the narrow sidewalk and once we reached the park, two men saw me struggling to get the stroller over a curb. They immediately ran over and helped me lift it. Once in the park, I began to push the stroller to the big group of CONANI kids on the other side. At this point, the girls were ecstatic. Both were laughing, but Carolina’s laugh was broken with intermittent squeals. Elizabeth was also clapping. After about a minute of walking, one of the kids in the group noticed us coming and immediately started running towards us. The other kids followed suit. We heard them shouting “Elizabeth, Carolina!” as well as a lot of laughter. As the two groups met, I was overcome with joy. These kids have adopted each other and become a family. They love each an extraordinary amount and when two little girls get to go to the park that normally do not get to go, it is a reason for all the kids to celebrate.
When I started volunteering at CONANI, I knew I would fall in love with the kids, but I never imagined how hard I would fall or how painful it would be to leave. I am going to miss these children with all of my heart. Even so, I am incredibly grateful for the experience and would not change it for the world. My advice for future CONANI volunteers is this: leave your comfort zone. If you do not think you can teach a little girl how to walk, try anyway. If you do not think you can connect with a bedridden teenage boy, sit with him anyway. If you do not think two little girls in a double stroller will be allowed to go to the park, ask anyway. Above all, no matter how much it may hurt when you leave; love every one of the children anyway. As the poet Alfred Lord Tennyson said, “’T is better to have loved and lost / Than to never have loved at all”.