If I’m going to be completely honest, I didn’t even try to smile for this photograph. I was tired, dirty, probably hungry, probably in pain, and definitely heartbroken that this was my last day with these kiddos.
While it’s important to insert boundaries into the relationships you make with kids you see once a year for a week in July, and to actively assess your (and their) attachment levels to one another, there’s no limit to the amount of love you can give.
I’m actually having a very difficult time trying to condense Colombia into a blog post. How do you put four years of San Mauricio into about 900 words? (Spoiler Alert: you don’t). So instead of trying to talk about La Fundación San Mauricio as a whole, I’m just going to tell you a couple stories.
My first story is about the very first five minutes I ever spent at San Mauricio. I was 16 years old, and still exhausted from an extremely long trip to Bogotá (think: pilots locking themselves out of the cockpit, mechanical issues with multiple airplanes, missing an international flight, unexpectedly spending a night in Miami with four other teenagers, one of them being a 24 year old Beth Whitacre, and chaos, but not the organized kind that us social workers pride ourselves on). I had prepared myself for a long day. We pull up to the orphanage after a bumpy, terrifying bus ride where traffic laws are just mere suggestions, with the grand finale of the ride being convincing the huge charter bus to successfully complete a 30º turn into the neighborhood onto a steep, unpaved road. Eventually, the bus stops and the gates to San Mauricio open. Standing on both sides of the drive are every kid, every adult, and every staff member, cheering us into the orphanage while waving handmade Colombian and American flags as high as their arms will stretch. I don’t think words or photographs could ever do that moment justice. Everybody was just so excited, so thrilled to be there. We got off the bus and were instantly swarmed and hugged by kids and staff members alike. It was going to be a good week.
My next story is about a sweet, sweet little girl named Monica*. She was the first child I met at San Mauricio, back in 2012. She was quiet, and when she talked, she didn’t say much. She just came up to me when I got off the bus and melted into my arms. In that moment I loved her, and not because she needed it, or out of pity or sadness or charity. I just loved her. Monica and I spent most of that week together, making friendship bracelets, sharing stories, playing soccer, and I can’t even count the amount of times I ran across the playground with this eight year old goofball on my back. She was a ball of energy, sass, and kindness. I gave her all the love I could in the few days we spent together. When it was time to go, she clung to me. It’s hard to know what to say in those moments; you know better than to make promises or give the kids false hope. So I told her I loved her and that I’d remember her forever. After one last squeeze, and a kiss from her on the cheek, I got on the bus. Each subsequent year, I looked for her standing on the drive as we entered, but she was never around. I didn’t see Monica again for three more years, until 2015. She looked great, happy, even. And she definitely still expected those piggyback rides across the playground.
My final story of this post is about a boy named Nicolas*. Just thinking about him brings tears to my eyes (which is awkward, because I’m in public). If I could give this boy the world, I would, and just about everyone I know can justify that. Nicolas was in my kindergarten class in 2012. He was a small kid, but he had a lot in him. He seemed to pick a lot of fights, and hated obeying the rules. But he was so smart, enjoyed learning (especially English), and absolutely adored being loved on. I could honestly talk about Nicolas for hours, but I don’t want to make you read a novel. You just need to know that in 2013 he started calling me both hermana and mamá, and in 2014, he tried to pretend to be a kindergartener again (he was quite a bit taller than the other kindergarteners at that point) so he could be in my classroom. That same year, when I went around the orphanage with a video camera asking different kids to tell me their name, their age, and something about them, Nicolas said, “Hola, me llamo Nicolas, tengo ocho años, y quiero una familia en los Estados Unidos.” In English, that translates to, “Hi, my name’s Nicolas, I’m eight years old, and I want a family in the United States.” I watch that video multiple times a week, and I still love this kiddo like a brother. I have photographs of the two of us everywhere. We were joined at the hip for years. When he wasn’t at San Mauricio in 2015, I was a little heartbroken, but I soon learned that he’d been transferred to an orphanage that was much better equipped to help him with his behavioral issues.
I have hundreds of stories I could tell, like the time I was forced to do a Colombian dance on stage in front of all of San Mauricio, or the time I tried to learn how to do the dance the Colombian national fútbol team does when they score, or the time I taught about a hundred kids how to do the Cha Cha Slide, or the time I got my butt stuck in one of the kindergartener’s chairs and had to have two six year olds help pry it off me, or all the times I surrendered my hair and nails to a bunch of pre-teen girls, or the times I handed out new shoes to the kiddos, or painted the elementary school classroom walls, or the lasting friendships I’ve made with the other adoptees on the trip, or watching Beth, with absolutely no grace, conquer the zipline. I could go on, and on, and on.
Colombia has a very special place in my heart. It’s a huge part of what has led me to where and who I am now, which is a passionate Gladney intern, halfway through my Bachelor of Social Work Degree at the University of Texas. Thank you, Gladney, for giving me this part of my life. I wouldn’t be who I am without it.
By: Margot Twomey
International Adoption Intern
[Hearts have been placed over the kids’ faces to protect their identities. Asterisks (*) have been placed next to names that have been changed the first time they appear.]