Monday, January 13, 2014


                All my life my mother has told me she loves me unconditionally.  My dad did too, but my mom said it more often mostly because she was reprimanding me more (don't worry I know you loved me both the same). I know that did more for my self-confidence than anything, though.  Knowing that no matter what I did, my parents made it clear that they would always love me, always. I guess I never realized how much that affects a person until I got older and began to notice something different in those who didn’t have that security.  I felt grateful and sorry and I wanted them to have what I had and know that feeling of safety all at the same time.  I especially want that for our kids here. 

                Ever since I found out I would be the Kindergarten teacher this year, it’s been on my mind to give the classroom a much-needed paint job.  So, with some donations from last year’s Kinder teacher and my parents, we were able to finally buy some paint.  When the kids are on break here and too old to be in winter camp, they go to PAVI which stands for Puente a la Vida Independiente or Bridge to the Independent Life.  It’s a way for them to learn basic skills like gardening, cleaning, building, painting, etc.  In it they are able to help beautify the finca, literally eat the “fruits” of their labor when it’s ripe, and earn a little chore money to buy ice cream or save up and get a nice pair of fashion sandals all the girls are obsessed with.  Part of their money does have to go into a savings account that they will work on building up over time until the day they leave our care and another portion goes to charity and the Church which they choose to do themselves.  It’s a great program and really gives our kids life-long skills and a good understanding of solid work ethic.  

                So, when it was suggested to me that I use the PAVI girls for two days to help me paint the Kinder classroom, I thought to myself, “Well, I’m sure it would be easier for me to do this on my own, but these girls deserve a fun project and I can teach them the proper, professional way to paint.”  What I forgot was that they’re all teenage girls. 

                It was what they would call here in Honduras an absolute relajo (or an absolute mess).  Not only were they painting their hair, their shoes, and each other when I wasn’t looking, but they painted literally every single part of the classroom save the floor and ceiling but including the electric sockets and the light switch. I made them stay late to clean out the school pila they dumped the paint brushes and buckets in leaving a nice layer of watery paint sitting and staining the inside of the sink.  After that first day, I realized I was in way over my head and I was dreading the next.  But, as we left the girls were laughing and singing and I knew that at least they had enjoyed themselves and the first coat in the classroom didn’t look half that bad.  I found myself wishing I spoke better and could explain myself as clearly as I wanted to.  I understand their frustrations with me when I can't tell them specifically what I want; I had plenty of Chinese TA’s in college who barely spoke English…I feel for them.  It’s not easy, but they could be a little easier on us too.  

                The next day was worse because it was raining and they had it in their heads that this meant we don’t have PAVI.  They fought me on it all morning and by the time we got there and started painting, they had an attitude I hadn’t yet seen come out before.  It’s hard for them because up until this point, they saw me as a friend who came to spend time with them and hang out all the time.  And it’s not their fault because in the past as a Summer missionary and someone who came with the Church brigades, that’s what I was.  But now I was in a disciplinary position and I had to hold them accountable for their actions to help them grow and become good human beings and it isn’t comfortable for anyone.  I felt like I had been hit by a train and I was so frustrated and angry at the way they were treating me.  The Farm has a system where the kids get graded on their work from that day on a scale of 1-5, 5 being above and beyond and 1 being needs great improvement.  At the end of the week, they get their points added up and that determines what privileges they get such as going to the weekend movie night or being grounded at home.  Let’s just say that this particular weekend there were quite a few older girls who were not at movie night.   

                I tried to stay as calm as possible, but when we all came back after those two horrible days, I just felt like crying.  This isn’t what I came here for and what good am I doing here if they all hate me?  The last time this happened on a slightly smaller scale, one girl didn’t talk to me for 3 weeks straight. Despite all this, I’ve come to an understanding that this is normal and expected.  Being a missionary is hard.  We are stuck in this small in between of friends and peers who these kids can and should trust, but also as the adults responsible for disciplining them when they act out.  It’s basically crash-course parent training.

                In the end, some wrote me apology notes, others asked for me to come hang out with them several times a day, and another one just needed a hug to make sure I still loved her.  It reminded me that not only do these kids not have what I will always have in my parents, but I'm reminded of the sacrifice it takes to live, work, and give here and that it’s all worth it.  They are worth it.  They remind me of the unconditional love my parents showed me as a child and make me want to be a better person every single day.  We have to be those people for them.  In the words of my parents, “I can be your friend and your parent, but if you make me choose I will always pick being the parent because I love you.”  I feel like I’ve never understood those words more in my life than I have now.