Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Call of Duty

I am officially a working woman! Last Wednesday brought about my very first day of work at Pajarito Azul and I have spent this past week getting settled into the routine of an eight-to-four job (a stark contrast to the leisurely lifestyle I was leading for the previous two weeks.) Throughout the upcoming months I will be working with a different group of residents for one week and after I have spent time in each area, I will decide what my role will be for the remainder of my time in Nicaragua.

I began my excursion of Pajarito Azul in a room called Hogar Ositos. The residents of this room are a mix of toddlers and low-functioning and immobile adolescents. My first week was overflowing with diapers, bottles, and baths as well as smiles, laughs, and games. I instantly fell in love with the kids in this room and the work that came along with caring for them. When there was not a diaper that needed changing, I took to holding one of the Ositos. I passed much of my time this past week in a rocking chair talking to a little one in my arms. That is until yesterday.

I arrived at work yesterday knowing that it was my last day with the Ositos for the next few weeks and, having grown quite fond of them, I was prepared to spend the day with a child on my lap. However, after being at work for about an hour, Maria, one of my co-workers, told me that holding the kids was not a good idea. I didn’t understand. As far as I could tell, it was a great idea. Not only did I love that part of my new job, but the children in Ositos rarely have someone to give them a hug, much less spend a significant amount of time holding them. It seemed to me that they were craving that personal attention and love. As I stood there looking perplexed Maria explained to me that when I hold the kids they grow accustomed to frequent and close personal contact. Thus, throughout the past week when I left work at the end of the day I left the kids crying and longing to be held. Unfortunately, there simply aren’t enough workers at Pajarito to continue holding the kids the way that I had been.

I was immediately hit by a wave of emotions. I was embarrassed that I had not realized my oversight sooner; I was disappointed that I could not spend my last day with the Ositos as I had originally intended; but most of all, I was disheartened because I simply did not know how I was supposed to spend time with the kids if I couldn´t hold. Maria continued to counsel me and explained that there are other ways to engage the children, such as taking them for a walk in their wheelchair or playing a game with them. I could certainly spend time with the children but I just had to do so in a manner that does not leave anyone in tears when I leave. Although I was still embarrassed, disappointed, and disheartened, I now understood what my co-worker was trying to tell me: I have to be sure that my interactions with all of the residents can be sustained by the staff after I go home at four o’clock and even more importantly, when I return to the U.S. in two years.

Establishing a sustainable role in my job is one of the challenges at the heart of my work as a temporary volunteer. Since I am only here for a short while, I cannot make the residents of Pajarito so dependent on me that when I leave they are not able to continue as normal. I do not anticipate that I will be irreplaceable at the end of my time at Pajarito but Maria’s honesty reminded me of the balance that I will constantly have to keep in the back of my mind as I continue my work. I fully intend to give of myself the best way I know how but I must do so without disturbing the normal order of my workplace. At times this might mean that I have to sacrifice what I think they need (like I did yesterday) and at other times this might mean that I have to give more than I thought I could. However, these are the very challenges that will remind me of my call of duty: to be with the residents and accompany them in their daily lives. And that is something I can do.

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