Today tugged at my heart strings many times. Saying goodbye to the abuelos was a lot more difficult than I imagined it would be considering I only stayed for one week. Assisting and getting to know the Albierto, Rosa, y Teresa was a blessing. Their selfless act of also volunteering for the abuelos, always with a smile on their faces or laughter in the air, inspired me to do more and better for my community and more internationally. Their good-natured, joking, and kind hearts and character grew on me.
Even though I personally could not get to know all the abuelos, I made friends with some: Maria, Felicita, Abraham, Felipino, Delia. All the staff in Los Martincitos, primarily Tony and his Tia Julia, show and thrive on the support and help of volunteers.
I took so many fun, fond, and life-changing things out of this trip, and I feel an endless drive to be the change I want to see in the world. First stop was Lima; who knows what is next in store for me.
I was exhausted this day and didn’t go into detail of how hard it was to say goodbye to the abuelos, so I am doing this now because it is a memory that will forever be ingrained in my heart.
At the end of our assignment at Los Martincitos, Tony brought us to the dining hall to formally tell the abuelos it was our last day. He thanked us and praised us for taking the time to volunteer in a country like Peru that we are not indebted to. What really got me, what really made my emotions surface, were how the abuelos said goodbye to us. The gesture was the same as how we were greeted on day one:
Clap clap clap, abrazos! Clap clap clap, besos!
They clapped and gave us air hugs and kisses. It was cute the first day they did this. The last day? I couldn’t help but start crying. Here these elderly people – no matter their life story, no matter their health, no matter if they only spoke Quechua – were so grateful for us being there. After they made this gesture, all that were able walked up to hug and kiss us goodbye, wiping my tears from my cheeks. I lost it, I could barely wrap my head around how strongly they loved us, just for wanting to help them, complete strangers. I hugged so many, so warmly with salty smiles. The abuelas kept telling me, “no te pongas triste, tienes que estar feliz y sonreír” – “don’t be sad, you have to be happy and smile!”
All the laughter, tears, and farewell wishes pulled me together – until I saw Maria. Then I broke down and cried the hardest. I went straight to her and hugged her so tightly. She was the first abuela to talk to me, the one who saw straight through to my heart and saw my intentions to help. She loved me unconditionally from first sight, and I will never forget her. The small stain on her blouse, her simple earrings, how her wrinkles lined around her ever-smiling and appreciative lips. Maria is a wonderful woman, a strong woman who has endured so much.
Meeting her was the center of the reason why I wanted to volunteer: to embrace someone, respect them, and let them know that they matter in this world.