“Hogar San Francisco? Isn’t that orphanage for the deaf?” I asked anxiously as I stared at my volunteer assignment.
“Um… I think so,” the woman next to me responded.
“But I thought I was going to practice my Spanish with the kids,” I said frantically. “I mean, how am I supposed to communicate with them? And how can I help them if they can’t even tell me what they need?”
I had two main reasons for traveling to Peru last June with a group from St. Mary’s Church in Clinton, CT. First, I wanted to help the many people of Peru who struggle in poverty. Secondarily, I hoped to practice speaking Spanish with the orphans that I would be caring for. However, my plans changed when I was informed that I would be volunteering at an orphanage for deaf children. As I did not know a single gesture of sign language, this task seemed nearly insurmountable.
Upon arriving at the Hogar, the children immediately ran to me, giving me loving hugs. In that moment, I instantly knew how important it was for me to be there, and I decided that I could not give up. After all, I did not need to speak to the children to be able to communicate with them; they would teach me a few vital words of sign language, and the rest could be conveyed through simple, universal gestures. By the end of my first day at the Hogar, I had learned the children’s daily routine and the basics of what I would need to do to help them.
The following day I brought coloring books and crayons for the children to play with. After running from child to child to distribute materials, I realized that what they truly needed was not simple crayons; each child required basic, loving attention. Though I knew it would never amount to what they deserved, I did my best to give each of the forty children some form of individual attention every day, even if all I could do was hold them for a few minutes.
By the end of my two-week stay in Peru, I had become quite attached to each orphan at the Hogar. Although they could not tell me aloud how much it meant to them that I was there, I saw great appreciation in their faces as I reluctantly said goodbye. Before leaving, I received a warm hug from every child and even a few prized pages that they had colored.
As I walked down the cobbled street away from the Hogar, I knew that even though I had been uncertain of how I could help the children of the Hogar without talking to them, my experience there was in fact better than I had initially imagined. Instead of yielding to my fears, I pushed myself beyond what I thought I could do, taking on the challenge of helping children who few have considered before and giving love to them because they need it just as desperately as food or clothing.
Because of my experience in Peru, I have decided that I will never again feel unable to help another person just because of a difficulty in communication. I have learned first hand that hugs and smiles are often a more effective means of communication than words because such basic gestures have a greater ability to convey emotions, allowing people to connect on a level that transcends all languages.
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