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Uruguay – a “new life” restarts here

I am in front of a blank page, trying to express with words the experiences that I lived in Uruguay. I am Elisa, I am 20 years old and in the beginning of May 2019 I went to Montevideo, Uruguay with the milONGa project.

A small backpack on my back, a suitcase with the bare minimum and a notebook in which I would write my thoughts, my emotions…

Before leaving I did not know what to expect, but I also did not want to make big expectations, to

avoid disillusionment and not be able to meet those expectations, after living this experience likethe one I had to live. I then left with the only wish of loving and giving myself to everything.

After leaving the airport in Montevideo, I was received with great joy by the family that was going to host me. With their affection I didn’t even have the time of feeling uncomfortable or missing my home. The family was a fundamental part of this experience: they took me in, put up with me, helped me, and made me feel loved for who I am. For me, the oldest daughter’s presence, Agustina, was very important because I shared a lot with her and built a beautiful relationship.

During my stay, I carried out my volunteer service supporting the teachers and educators in diverse activities that were carried out at the Centro Nueva Vida, a center that takes in children from the ages of 2 through 18 with family situations and social difficulties, and provides for them a place where they can learn, have fun, be together, and grow.

The first obstacle that I encountered was the language; not knowing Spanish well enough for the first weeks was very difficult making myself be understood, and communicating with people, but at the same time it was beautiful and fun because through phrases and gestures, everyone tried to help me and taught me the language.

The alarm goes off at 7:30 am on the second day; I eagerly eat breakfast, take a hot shower, I put on my backpack…we head off to Centro Nueva Vida.

Non nego che all’inizio un po’ di smarrimento c’è stato, ma poi sono riuscita a trovare il mio posto e rendermi conto di dove effettivamente c’era bisogno del mio aiuto.

That Monday I would start my service…I still remember my emotion and thoughts that were running through my head: Will I meet all expectations? Will I be able to do everything they ask of me? Will they accept me? But at the same time I couldn’t wait to start.

I can’t deny that in the beginning I was a bit confused, but later on I found my place and was able to see where they really needed my help.

I had the opportunity of sharing with the youngest children between the ages of 2 and 3, as well ass the oldest, between the ages of 6 through 12. They were all different, but had the same need of feeling loved.

I am always astonished how with children it doesn’t matter the language in which you speak if we force ourselves to speak with our heart, with actions and with our gaze. Everything else comes by itself, and when they trust you, you know they decided to trust in you.

Many of them were with dirty clothes, they had a strong smell, a lot of the girls had lice…but this did not take away my desire of being with them, playing with then and loving them.

I learned the meaning of understanding, tolerance, patience and solidarity. I took away my prejudices and fears, and I learned how to live with serenity.

They taught me the meaning, which I had lost, of the small things, the importance of being happy and the simplicity and value of relationships.

I still remember all of their questions, curious in knowing me better and learning more about me: Where do you come? How is your city? How many siblings do you have? Do you like this place?

Why did you come to Uruguay?

It was nice to see how they looked for me, and how they greeted me when I would arrive or leave: a small gesture that for me meant a lot.

I learned a lot about the Uruguayan culture and I was able to submerge myself to the point where everyone called me “Uruguaya.”

I also discovered that the greater part of the Uruguayan population is of Italian origin: during the crisis and migrations, a lot of Italians settled in Latin America and above all in Uruguay. It was an opportunity to reflect a lot and think that my country has lived through years of hardship of migrations and that for a long time Italians were the foreigners.

Having made this type of experiences and studying the history s how one learns to be more open minded and tolerant with others, including with the person who is different and comes from afar.

It is true that as a volunteer you do not receive a material payment, but the emotions, the children’s

stares, their embraces, smiles, games and jokes, the affection of the people who are near…I am sure that it is the best recompense that one can receive and want.

And I will cherish these gifts in my heart forever.

And to conclude I can only say:

Thank you for everything Uruguay, we will meet again!

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