04 Nov volunteering in agua prietaReading Time: 6 minutes
this post is a little different from my general topics, as it’s more personal and expresses what I learned from a week I spent volunteering in mexico last january. the experience was very meaningful for me and as soon as I got home I felt that I needed to put together something to express it. I think the photos do better justice than my words, but here it is.
a few months ago my dad died n a construction accident and it was probably the most unreal thing that’s ever happened to me. I loved him a lot, we talked every day, and as hard is it may be to string together in a sentence, the feeling I felt most strongly after his death was love. mostly this overwhelming realization of how much I loved him and how much he had loved me and how it wasn’t till he was gone that I could comprehend how much these things matter. in fact, I’ve come to believe that in a sense, love is the only thing that matters. it is what holds us together. It is what makes us feel something, and I have found that this feeling is more real than anything.
this was the main reason that brought me to rancho feliz and I think the pictures I took are more expressive of my experience than words can be.
I spent a lot of time with the kids who live in casa hogar while in agua prieta, and if these kids taught me anything, it is to smile lightly and that the world is a lot funnier than we make it out to be. casa hogar is an orphanage and although the kids are well loved and well taken care of, it is worlds away from the world that I grew up in. these kids don’t have parents, they couldn’t even have a facebook page, and the only way they were going to have successful lives was to study harder than everyone else and get a good education. and ya we had that in common, I studied hard too, and I got good grades, and I’m going to university next year but I think the difference is that I could slip up. I could skip class, or fail a class, or drop a class altogether and none of it would matter in the long run because I would go to college either way. these kids couldn’t slip up, in their world there weren’t extra passes and all the adults who cared about them could hope for, was that they would make it through ok.
but despite all this pressure, they understood how to live, in that shining, simple way that children always remind us of. they lived in the present moment, and they enjoyed it wholeheartedly.
these pictures were taken at a daycare facility that the non profit had created. I was told that a lot of these kids parents worked in factories, leaving early in the morning and only getting back around dark. they had to work, they didn’t have a choice and without this sort of daycare program I don’t know where these toddlers would end up going every day. I had offered to do an activity with them and taking the administrator’s suggestion to teach them some english, I found myself sitting criss-cross applesauce in front of thirty doe eyed four year olds and singing to them in a language they didn’t understand. I was singing “If You’re Happy and You Know It” or at least the part of it that I remembered, and even if I couldn’t really get them to say “happy” with me they did like the part about stomping your feet a whole lot.
being toddlers their attention span was all of seven minutes but we did play a shrieking game of tag and I drew them pictures which we all enjoyed thoroughly as I could draw for hours and they liked requesting pictures, mostly of princesses and cars, although I did get one request for a camel.
besides the time I spent with the kids I also I visited some abuelitos, older people with no living family left. life is hard in agua prieta and without money or family a lot of the elderly end surviving on spare change, earned on the side of potholed streets. the man in the last picture was born in 1916, he was 103.
the old age home that rancho feliz has built is in contrast a clean and peaceful environment. I baked the abuelitos sugar cookies, and smiled with them and held their hands. I told them how I was from the united states and how I was going to study in barcelona, and only in speaking with people who had completed the majority of their lives did I truly realize that I have my whole life laid out in front of me. how remarkable it is to be young and filled with vigor and laden with opportunities. and how important it is to spend time sitting with those who’ve lived long enough to make more mistakes and have more heartfelt moments than 19 years could ever come close to matching.
I have always loved animals. when I traveled for a year with my family at the age of 12 all my sister and I wanted to do was make friends with the local cats and dogs. the next time I went long term traveling at 18 I found I hadn’t changed at all. when shaken out of the busy routine of everyday life I found I could always make time to interact with animals. I was happier petting a friendly silver cat who I found basking in the croatian island sun, than I would have been on any guided tour of the marvels of london or lisbon. I think simply it is because animals love without conditions, and for that they bring out the best in us.
these last shots are from the non profit’s mexico mutts program. it is a dog rescue for the animals of agua prieta, who are found on the streets, or rescued from abusive homes. all of the dogs in rancho feliz’s program were friendly and well cared for. the big dogs were located on a large property outside of town and with plenty of room to run around they were happy and well mannered. the director told me that they generally rehomed two dogs a week, a good ratio by my thinking; even if they could never take all the dogs off of the streets, still this program could transform countless lives.
and I think this is what rancho feliz is really about in the end- improving lives. I believe it is too easy to give up on the world. to condemn things as too difficult to change because often the odds are not in our favor. but the truth of the matter is that this is not the important thing. this life is short and what counts for most are the lives you touch, the circumstances you change. and the betterment of the life of any human or animal is always worth it.
I went to agua prieta with the intention to help, and what I learned is that often helping is easier than we think. it is giving our presence, our love and our time, which really is all we have to give. so please check out their website, there are numerous ways to get involved. and if anything, I hope my story has reminded you, as this last week has reminded me, of the importance of love.