August 19, 2009

Damien House and Semillas

One of the reasons I was so drawn to Rostro de Cristo is because it offers volunteers two worksites- one in the morning and one in the afternoon. After much deliberation, for my morning site, I chose a place called Damien House. This foundation is a clinic and home for people with Hansen´s Disease, or more commonly known as, leprocy. Yes, I wrote leprocy. One more time, leprocy.

I chose this place becuase of it restores dignity to those who have been forgotten in our society. For those who have been neglected, standed, and exiled. Damien House is a place where their humanity is restored. It is run by a small, and outstanding staff, that has made me and Laura, the other Rostro Volunteer at Damien, feel at home. There are nice beds, clean sheets, and clean clothes. There are materials for arts and crafts and there are games to play. The inside is all concrete, but it is hard to find a wall that that isn´t painted with a parrot, sunset, beach, rainbow, tree, or underwater wildlife. The colors are vibrant and it gives the place life. To add more life, there is a dog, two cats, and plants all around. It is a place of comfort, a place of activities, a place of laughter. Every morning I leave mi casa at 7.45am and take the yellow number 5 bus to accompany the patients in the mornings- to play dominos, cards, and orchestrate other activities. I come to talk with them and hear their stories. To be amigos.

I was also drawn to Damien House because it is in need right now- financially. Since it relies on donations coming from the US, it have been forced to downsize its staff and programs considerably over the past couple years. Studying Business and Philosphy at Boston College, I wanted to connect the two areas of study. How to do business, and at the same time, how to serve those in need. I was attracted to the notion that non-profits need to start making profits in order to fully pursue their mission. Maybe this will be my oportunity to use my business degree and help Damien House start seeking new ways to generate revenue for their mission.

Yesterday, we visited their organic farm that is about 40 minutes outside Guayaquil. Yes, organic farm. Damien House is trying to create a farm where they can supply enough food for their patients. Its about sustainability. The farm needs alot of work, and my new boss´s eyes lit up when I said I had experience landscaping. It looks like this can be another time in my life where I can apply the skills I learned at Obriens Outdoor Services. The last place time was in Sydney Austrailia where I worked, as a landscaper, to fund my trips to the Great Barrier Reef, Fiji, and New Zealand. This time, I am excited for my skills to be applied to something bigger than my own travels.

Damien House looks like it will offer me a lot of opportunities to use my business and landscaping backgrounds. I really look forward to helping out the foundation from a business background, but I cannot forget that I am there to accompany the patients. If I can help the foundation become a bit sturdier, great, but my real goal is to create relationships with the people who are in need of a friend.

After Damien, I take the same yellow bus back to Duran, eat either cold rice and beans from the night before (no microwave here) or cheese sandwiches. Yummmm. After ¨lunch¨I hop up on the hammock, read a book, and relax. At 3pm Jamie, Karla, and I hed over to our afterschool program, called Semillas. Semillas has two outdoor classrooms and a cancha- or concrete soccer ¨field.¨ There are anywhere from 30-100 kids everyday that come for a safe place to do their homework, play, or simply to get out of the house. Semillas is a minute walk from our house and the program runs for about 2 hours. The first hour, 2 of us conduct activities and the other helps out with homework. For the rest of the time, we control the choas of recess. To be honest, I just play soccer with the kids. Semillas, to me, is exactly like the Boys and Girls Club in Boston. We start off with structure and finish with soccer. The only difference is instead of the Brazilian kids in Boston speaking Portuguese, here, we ALL speak Spanish. There is alot less structure here, and we are the adults. Weird. But its still the same song. I liked it back in Boston, and I like it here in Duran.

Yesterday was my first day to lead an activity for the kids. There were about 30 of them, and I had to conduct an educational activity. When I was brainstorming for ideas of what to do, I figured it would be best to stick with my strong-suit, English. I gave a lesson for 40 minutes, introducing simple words and phrases, then we finished with a game. It went well, unbelievable well. And after, I was in the best mood, shellshocked that it went so well. This success came after a couple of days of failure- the day before I couldnt explain to a little girl that 1/5= 2/10. I didnt know the words for numerator, denominator, fraction, and I definitely didnt know how to describe the lowest common denomitater.

But thats how the days go here. Up and Down. The highs are high, and the lows are low. Some days I will sit in awkward silence next to a Hansens patient because I cant understand A WORD he is saying. I ask myself, why am I here? I feel useless, I cant even communicate. But other days I can be in a great one on one conversation in Spanish. Other days, I am just happy to walk into work and have ten children run at me screaming ¨Danieeeeeeel!¨ No matter how well or poorly any day goes, I feel I am moving forward with my ability to connect with others. For example, after I failed one day because I did not know the language for math- I went home and figured out how to explain it in Spanish. Today, I succeeded in explaining fractions. It can be frustrating here, but there is always hope.

There are always going to be hard days here, and there are always going to be great ones. Days that make me question myself here, and days when I cant get the smile off of my face as I walk down our dirt roads. The key for me is to take the good in with the bad- thats life. I cant let success or failure define me- My goal, everyday, is to have patience and to find gratitude in my opportunity here- I have so much to learn- not just a new language-but to learn about people, about the world, about myself.


Gisele said...

Hi Dan,
Reading your blog at 2:30 AM--heard some people partying on the lake and couldn't get back to sleep. What a lucky choice to check your blog!!!Your assignments sound amazing! Glad you can use your landscaping skills at the farm. I always thought you were very happy "playing with the land". Do the residents at Damien House help there? You also were always happy to work with kids--the after school program is perfect for you. Both places sound like they offer good balance for you. Keep your spirits up--we all have good days and bad. I think the bad days help us appreciate the good ones!
Love you very much!!! Mom

Brian said...

Wow, Dan. What an incredible journey you are on. The pictures you have painted are vivid, inspiring, and sobering. (The only parellel I can draw from my own mental library is the "favellas" that I saw a year ago while traveling in Brazil.) It takes a great deal of courage to strip yourself of familiarity and dive in to the unknown...but you have always been an adventure-seeking individual so I guess this comes as no surprise!

I am eager to visit you in Duran later this year to hear first-hand all the great things you and the Rostro team have achieved.

Stay safe and savor every moment, bro!


Garrett said...

yagga yo,

sounds like you're in for a hell of a year, man. i'm glad you found something that challenges you both mentally and spiritually. always keep your mind open and question what you have been taught.

i got back home less than a week ago from the trip. now i'm waiting for mis amigos, Meliss and Emily, to return so i have an excuse to get back on the road.

and fuckin tom is going to korea. spreading out all over the world. shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit.

anyways, hope all is well. i'll leave you with a quote from my man, Matisyahu, the link between Judaism and Jah Rastafari. maybe it'll help you along the way--i know it has helped me.

Strippin’ away the layers and reveal your soul
Got to give yourself up and then you become whole
You're a slave to yourself and you don't even know
You want to live the fast life but your brain moves slow
If you're trying to stay high, bound to stay low
You want God but you can't deflate your ego
If you're already there then there's nowhere to go
If you're cup's already full then its bound to overflow
If you're drowning in the water's and you can't stay afloat
Ask Hashem for mercy, and he'll throw you a rope

one love, my man, one love