Spotlight: San Mateo Volunteer

For much of the past month, a quirky Canadian has been volunteering with me in San Mateo.  Originally from a suburb of Ontario called Ancaster (not to be confused with my good old suburban home town of Lancaster, Pennsylvania; Pennsylvania not to be confused with Transylvania where everyone thinks I am from, no one in Guatemala having heard of Pennsylvania),  I met Nick at La Union my second day in Antigua and have since become an unconditional fan of his shaggy ginger hair, disheveled flannel button ups, and unconventional take on life.
No, I am not in love with Nick.  But, if he asked me to marry him (I think I’m in line after Swedish Fia, Danish Anne, and British Sam since a double citizenship with the US isn’t all that exciting), I would immediately research foreign matrimony policies.  Or in wishful thinking, maybe I already have.Did you know that Australians who want to marry foreigners have to provide email correspondences from the last two years, submit a photo album, and solicit ten witnesses to write on behalf of the loving and healthy relationship?  And in the US, one of the first steps to legitimizing a marriage is a wedding “announcement” in the local newspaper that must be printed at least two weeks in advance.  I never understood that section of the newspaper; I thought people were just vain.

Amelia gives Nick his first of 46 valentines
Regretfully, Nick’s last day of work at the orphanage was last Friday afternoon.  As his going away party coincided with Valentine’s Day, Dia de Amistad in Guatemala, the kids from San Mateo prepared heart-shaped cards, jewelry, and bouquets of flowers.
Vanessa and Maybeline with wild flowers.
After homework help and English class, the kids formed a line that stretched the entire length of the orphanage floor.  The whole process took a half hour, each child spending thirty seconds to express his or her earnest gratitude in a sad, small voice.
Even though I didn’t line up with recuerdos for Nick, I hope he knows I am going to miss our daily chicken bus rides and our off-color conversations over coffee, mojitos, nachos, and the like.  While traveling you develop an easy manner of meeting people, but you also get better at saying good bye.  I am constantly astonished by the warm, insightful, and entertaining people I meet abroad; people that I would latch onto at home, but here, have to let come and go without protest.
Abrazos from Eric
Among my recent foreign friends is an outgoing and artistic girl from Barcelona named Aina.  Aina also works at the orphanage in San Mateo and has some great ideas for jewelry.  It’s great to have another extranjera’s opinion so we can better market the products toward tourists.  In its humble developing phase, we have decided to call the jewelry company “Joyas de Hope,” Joyas meaning Jewelry and pronounced “Hoy-as.”
Makeshift way to show examples
We haven’t found a way to make earrings yet, but the kids have created colorful bracelets and necklaces to sell to tourists.  100% of the proceeds go toward the children’s school materials, clothing and living expenses.  And as the jewelry is made out of natural materials, beans of all colors and avocado seeds, the business essentially yields nothing but profit.
Another makeshift way to show examples
 With the kids in school right now, I spend a half an hour to an hour each day making jewelry with the older kids (a different kid every day) and we can make about fifteen bracelets and ten necklaces a week.  I am selling most of the jewelry in Antigua, but if you are interested in a necklace or bracelet, let me know and I will happily bring one home for you!
With committed volunteers like Nick, the implementation of revenue boosters such as Joyas de Hope, and incoming groups facilitated by Cultural Embrace, the kids at the orphanage are optimistic about the future.  The children of San Mateo sent Nick home with a hand-made necklace, hand-picked flowers, and hand-crafted cards, but he left with more than gifts.  Nick has a home and a family in Guatemala.
When we left that afternoon, the kids sang in unison as they do every day—forever hopeful, forever gracious:
                 “Buenas noches
                  Hasta mañana
                  La luna y los niños
                  Nos vamos a la cama
                  Nos vamos a la cama
                  Nos vamos a la cama”

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Kate Springer

Freelance writer and editor based in Hong Kong. Contributor at CNN, Forbes Travel Guide, BBC Travel, Fodor's Travel Guide, superfuture, Tatler, and more.

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