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Offer your life to change the world

When people in Switzerland ask me about my experience, so much comes to mind, most of all I remember the many faces; the faces of those that would smile before getting the children out of bed, faces of the children when they had to eat something they didn’t like, faces of suffering and apathy, but most of all happy faces, so full of joy they could fill up your soul with one look. You almost asked yourself: “who is helping who here? Who is serving whom? “.

Before leaving for Bolivia, I was convinced that I would receive much more than I would be able to give. Not materially things, but moments that fill the soul, that strike you, that touch you and that you can carry with you for a lifetime.

During the second week, I happened to be talking with a friend and telling him how happy I was with how the project at La Casa de los Niños was going. He asked me if “happy” was really the right word, I realized that we use the word “happy” so easily to describe a beautiful moment, to say that we are well, that we are fortunate or satisfied. But are we really happy in those moments? I don’t know. What I do know is that I was truly happy in those days, but not in the sense of great laughter; I felt a profound happiness, which had its roots in suffering. I saw happiness and suffering pass hand in hand.

I think I could write a book about every person I met, make a film about the history of every family that lives in the city. I heard about those suffering in the world, but getting in touch directly with the them touched me in a much more profound way. I experienced painful situations, abuse, drugs addiction, crime, violence, illness, not being able to put food on the table for the family. However, at the same time, I found myself immersed in a very cheerful context, where joy was expressed in the little things. I was in the middle of a community that taught me so much about life.

When I arrived, the first few days were a bit difficult; I didn’t understand rhythm. At a certain point, however, I realized that most of the time it was better not to have too much structure to my daily routine. Every day had a new rhythm, my job was to stay in the house 24/7 helping the children (almost all with disabilities, physical and mental) washing dishes, cooking, playing with them and various other activities.

Since we did not have a fixed schedule, we could manage our time in total freedom; it was one of my first experiences of this kind. Nobody forced me to do anything, everything depended on my initiative. Because of this doing tasks that I didn’t l began to have new value. From the start I wanted to serve “La Casa de los Niños”, to do whatever was needed – even if they were small things, things that no one noticed that I had to do, things which were difficult for me and might make me think of quitting. I don’t know if I succeeded 100%, but I’m sure I woke up every day with the same goal in mind until the last day of my experience.

The best thing was feeling that every day my 100% grew, I felt I could give more and more. For example, I remember that the first few days I could not have breakfast because the smells and noises of the place bothered me. I felt useless during breakfast in the beginning because I wanted so much to help, but I couldn’t. There were also some days when I got sick from the food, which was very different, and I felt like I couldn’t give 100%. These are just some of the experiences and little moments where I felt I had to make an extra effort to better myself one step at a time, day after day.

In the end I was shocked by the feeling of being able to look past the problems and the illnesses of those around me, to be able to know and understand them beyond their weaknesses. To realize that even if those in front of you can’t speak, can’t move or communicate with you, it is still a person with preferences and feelings. To discover that one child loved to be caressed on the head, and another smiled after a kiss on the forehead, to learn what food each one loved to eat … each of these details formed a shimmering star in the sky of my experience, even if at the beginning some thing weren’t my favorite like- feeding them, washing them or change their diapers. It would be a lie if I said that they didn’t return all the love I gave them. They would always thank you with a smile, by leaning their head on your shoulder or taking your hand.

As I said earlier, some tasks were more enjoyable than others: being out all afternoon playing with children was definitely nicer than staying at home cleaning the fridge or kitchen. However, since the beginning I began to understand that there are two ways of helping: Hoping to receive a “thank you” and feeling right with yourself because you worked with care and helping in the sense of putting oneself in the second, third, fourth place and having as your priority the needs of others. Understanding this wasn’t hard, Asking myself if I was helping in this way became a habit quickly. What was important was the other, the children in the house, the adults who give their lives for this project and the other volunteers who stood beside me. I understood that I did not simply want, to help, but “be help”, emptying myself of my preferences and my ideas on how to do a certain thing, leaving space in my heart for others.

I sensed this difference strongly, on Fridays, we would deliver food to the homeless.That kind of poverty is not common in Switzerland. There was something unusual that fascinated me – I did not want to distant to them. I would bring the food and stay and talked to them. I didn’t want to make them feel like a zoo animals. Watching curiously is not helping, truly seeing and reflecting on what we needs to change means is real help.

This whole experience of maturation was possible thanks to all the people who accompanied me during the experience. The people who live there every day, those that made my trip possible and that let me in on a world so different from mine; who integrated me into the school and expressed the desire to help, people who made me feel at home in the midst of a totally unknown environment.

I left with smiling and with tears in my eyes. Tears because I would have liked to stay longer, because it is never easy to leave a place that’s become your home, and smiling because now I know that I have so much to give to others to tell everyone about “La Casa de los Niños” and how it made me realize I want to offer my life to improve the world as they do.

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