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Ecuador, Voluntourism

Mis amigos especiales

It’s inevitable that I have my favorites. It happens every time and there’s no rhyme or reason to it. I have several this time, but I think the most special is Vanessa, who I’ve already mentioned. She’s mentally sharp, but trapped in a body contorted by muscular dystrophy. Early in the week, Vanessa and I had a bonding moment when I was assigned to help her during a hydrotherapy session. I clumsily removed her clothes (which are always nicely matched), put on her pretty red and white polka-dotted bikini with the frilly bottoms, and then gently placed her in the water and held her while her therapist encouraged her to move her legs. While I spoke some words of support, I used one arm to keep her from slipping under, and the other to pour handfuls of water on her exposed shoulders to keep her warm. Between handfuls, I gently caressed her back, which is curved as though a snake were slithering under her skin. That unnatural curve would be a hard thing to see in anyone, but even more so in Vanessa’s tiny body, every inch of which seems to have twisted to accommodate her meandering spine. Vanessa’s body, combined with the water and my inexperience, resulted in a few clumsy moments, but she was patient with me. After that bath, I think Vanessa saw a kindred spirit in me as well, for every time I drew near, she would reach a weak, pinched hand up to mine and hold it with her delicate fingers. Vanessa es mi amiga especial.

Another of my favorites is, of course, Francisco. As I mentioned before, he and his twin brother are usually in their own world and don’t engage very much, except to utter their favorite word, and perform their little mimes. Genuine engagement only seems to happen on their own terms. Francisco enjoys the little visual game of hide-and-seek that we play because it’s something he started on his own and I just played along. If I also play along and repeat his favorite word (the non-sensical “camishu”) and use it in a sentence, his face lights up and he gets very animated. I imagine him thinking to himself, “Finally, someone who understands!” The other day, I was watching over some of the students who were awaiting their therapy. One of the students, Andres, was trying to leave the room and getting quite upset at me for blocking the door to prevent him. Francisco, who normally doesn’t engage unless he initiates it, came protectively to my side and put his arm around my waist, as though to help me block the way from Andres, but also to protect me from Andres’ growing hysteria. Francisco stood there patiently with me, the two of us united until Andres’ episode subsided. Francisco’s first day at the school was the same as mine and I’ve seen him every day since—it was the first time I’ve seen him do something like that.

I cherish these special moments. It’s what keeps me going when I feel tired, overwhelmed, or just isolated because I’m the only volunteer. Yes, this particular volunteer job has been challenging, but it has also been worthwhile. The unique challenge of this job made it special, and it was the challenge that made the special moments stand out so vividly.

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About colleen finn

Colleen Finn is a globe trotting, sight seeing, day tripping, frequent flying traveler with a penchant for voluntourism.

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