Sunday, January 23, 2011


Sleeping downstairs with the girls now means that every so often I wake up to hear sniffling coming from somewhere in the darkness of the dormitory. I can feel how long I’ve been in the hogar because I can usually recognize the girls just by the sound of their crying. Last night the youngest in the dorm, Melody (4), was sniffling from the corner of the room. When I laid my hand on her cheek and asked “are you crying, little Melody?” she threw her arms out and buried her face against me.

Rocking her back to sleep, murmuring and humming to her as her tears dry and her breathing slows to the steady, rhythmic sighing we adults often lay awake craving, is one of the simplest but most important parts of my day. My dorm is full of girls who were beaten, abused, abandoned, rejected or forgotten. Tiptoeing past their beds at night, or stopping them in the hall to ask about their drooping expression, or settling down beside them in silence when I find them hidden, staring glumly at the ground in the garden, is a way of reminding them that, despite whatever they were taught by their families, the world does see and care and sometiems even respond when they are hurting.

I feel so powerless and overwhelmed by the world sometimes. I want to change the circumstances these and so many other children are growing up in. I want not only to offer these girls everything they need to succeed and find peace in this world, but also to change the very systems that make their pain a possibility in the first place. So often I feel weak in the face of poverty, exploitation, violence, and human selfishness. I love my work but still sigh at night, longing to do more about this broken world we live in. Rocking Melody back to sleep, feeling her fingers, which she had wrapped around a fistful of my own pajamas, slowly relaxing and uncurling, I was struck by the knowledge that in this moment I was changing the world she lived in. She awoke in the night to a world that seemed lonely and frightening. Now, nestled in someone’s arms, her surroundings were changed to seem safe, warm, loving. Even if I didn’t change the world, for a few precious minutes, I changed hers, and for a moment I feel satisfied.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Revolution Jazz Meets Hogar Maria Auxiliadora.

The Jazz Academy where I dance had it's summer recital during the four nights leading up to Christmas Eve. It was a blast! I never imagined I would be dancing in a beautiful old theater (dancing on a wooden raked stage was an adventure) in downtown Cochabamba. The best part, though, was Christmas Eve. A few weeks ago I talked with a few of my friends to see how they would feel about dancing in the hogar. The girls knew we were performing in the city, but they also knew we wouldn't be able to bring them all to the city to see the show. The dancers I talked to were on board, so Luis, our director, agreed to bring the Cuerpo de Baile to the hogar.

Neither the girls nor the sisters had ever seen anything like jazz dance or a dance recital. They kept asking me things like "are you going to dance Christmas carols?" and "are you all going to dress the same?" and "can you teach us all the dances tomorrow morning?" Knowing most of them would never get a chance to see something like this, I was a little bummed when Luis announced the line-up. Fame and Africa. That's it? Only two dances? It was better than nothing, but I went to bed after our last show praying that God would move his heart and help the group to see what a beautiful gift their presence would be for the girls.

The next morning, when I showed up at the terminal to bring the group to the hogar, there were already a handful of guys from the Street group waiting.Luis had recruited them late the night before to come perform for the girls as well! When Luis and his sister and co-director Patricia arrived, my duo partner Alicia had made sure they had everything we needed to dance our own piece as well. Overnight our show had doubled in size and length. Before half of us climbed in to a trufi, I told them how excited the girls were, that they sprang out of bed when I reminded them we were coming to dance today and were scrubbing every last corner of the hogar at that moment. I think that image stuck with them, because when the last of the dancers arrived ten minutes behind us in Luis’s car, another duo was ready to perform as well. As the girls peeked timidly around corners giggling and blushing and running to line up their chairs Patricia walked in to the dressing room and announced “girls! Someone go tell Luis we have to dance Salsa for them too! I think they’ll love it!” Wow, God had answered my prayers. He had inspired the group to offer their talents to these girls as an unforgettable Christmas gift!

And their generosity was not unrewarded. The girls were a dream audience. Every leap and extension and pirouette was ooohed and ahhhed and applauded enthusiastically. By the end of the show the girls were essentially star-struck and are still talking about the dancers by name. They remember what they wore, what they said, who they talked to, which dances they were in, etc. The experience has really stuck with the dancers too. They snapped pictures with the girls, put them on Facebook, and left comments over the next few days like:
“This energy, this group, and the happiness on the children’s faces was the best Chrstimas present. Everyone put in their part to make this poassible. What a beautiful memory! Congrats to everyone!!”
“everyone put in their own Little grain of sand to make these girls from the hogar so happy and give them a great Chrstimas gift. I feel so proud and so happy. Merry Christmas, everyone!”
“Super! Really, we have to do it again, and we don’t have to wait until Christmas or some special occasion things like this.”
All of these comments were written by teenagers and 20-somethings, most of whom live miles away from poor rural towns like Itocta and a few of whom showed up that morning hungover and apathatic.

Not only did the girls have an unforgettable experience, but I think the dancers became more aware of the tremendous gift that their talents can be to others.

From Cosechando Talentos / Hogar Maria Auxiliadora y Revolution Jazz Dance
Due to some changes in funding and laws, we've had a pretty dramatic change in staffing. One of the educadoras has left, one is on vacation and might return as a day employee only, our administrative assistant will help us out now only on weekends as a volunteer, and our cook will hopefully be back in a few weeks. For now, we're holding down the fort with 47ish girls, two sisters, and two volunteers. Yikes.

A few weeks ago I moved in to one of the two dorms and took on a few extra duties outside of teaching and tutoring during the day.I'm now the only one in the hogar from 6am until about 8:30 am. Every day, after seeing all the girls up, dressed, fed, and ready to go, I feel like supermom! Fortunately, the older girls help out a lot with the littlest ones. After prayer, I'm also the only one in the hogar for an hour so during dinner time until the sisters arrive again. I thought it would be really overwhelming to be here alone with all 47 of them on a regular basis, but I've gotten used to it pretty quickly. Although I'm working more hours, it's nice to take advantage of this time to catch up with some of the older girls, since most of the school support I do is with the elementary schoolers.

The lazy days of summer are really taking hold of the girls. I thought a full-on riot was taking shape the other day when I forced them to play for an hour after dinner before watching TV. "But Amber!! You're so evil!!! We don't even know what to do!" Exactly...that's how I know you've been watching too much TV. Getting all four dozen of them out back and introducing them to tunnel tag and duck duck goose seemed to break the spell of that bewitching glowing box for a few blessed minutes. They transformed from droopy-eyed zombies back in to little girls who laughed and played and cared about something besides Korean pop-stars. It was worth the many dozen times I was called "mala" and the comical threats to call the sisters and report the terrible abuse I was inflicting upon them by depriving them of their precious "tele."
Quote of that day, "You guys, if Amber keeps serving dinner, she might make us play EVERY DAY!" Sorry, girls, I'll be dragging your butts out to the soccer field every chance I get as long as I'm in charge at night. Which, considering our budget, is going to be quite awhile. Bwahahahaa!

We also have two new little ones (6 and 4) in the hogar and in my dorm. They're pretty cute, but they're still getting adjusted. It takes awhile for the girls to adjust to the norms of the hogar. Some of those lessons stretch our patience, and some our compassion ("you can come out from under your bed now. I'm going to scold you, not hit you"). Here we are with the other youngest girl in the hogar:
From Paseo December 2010