During my time in Argentina, I was simultaneously haunted and comforted by the thought, “I have the luxury to return home.” I have the luxury to return to a clean, spacious house. The luxury to return to my family. Not a perfect family, certainly not, but a family who gives me personal attention and love. What I leave behind is a world with few “Me” and “I.”
This summer I volunteered at an orphanage in Cordoba, Argentina called Hogar Bethel. While reflecting about my experience, I realized that the kids were always clustered into groups; “These are the Hogar kids,” “these are the older girls,” “these are the babies,” “these are these siblings.” They are seen as part of a group identity, but they are rarely recognized for their individual identity. Yes, they each have a name, a personality, an attitude. But they share many of the luxuries I’ve had to myself.
They share a shower, which immediately takes away any sense of privacy. They share clothes: school clothes, weekend clothes…No one child has his or her own clothes, the clothes are the Hogar’s and they alternate in who wears what. They share rooms, toys, food. One other precious thing that they are forced to share is their time, their lives. At home I spend time alone, I have the option to read quietly in my room or watch TV with my family. I can choose to hang out with friends, or I can choose to be alone. I have the choice.
At the Hogar the kids don’t have choice. They are always together. Always with the same people, who in many cases don’t treat them right. They share all of their time. They wake up next to each other, shower next to each other, eat next to each other, and go to bed next to each other. There is never any independence. Never any healthy solitude. Their lives are all intertwined together under the roof of the Hogar.
I lived in the Hogar for one challenging month. I struggled with the lack of privacy, the lack of structure and direction, and the lack of attention to the kids. I slept in a room without a door, so everyday the kids came in and woke me up. I had to keep my belongings in a separate room with a door so the kids wouldn’t steal my things (because they would if they had the opportunity). During that month, I longed for my private room at home. I craved my alone time that I take for granted. And I realized that I have the luxury to return to that. But at the same time, I felt guilty for needing that and wanting it.
For me, my experience at the orphanage was temporary. I voluntarily lived there for a limited time. However, these kids are taken there involuntarily and for an indefinite amount of time. This thought humbled me. These “commodities” that I take for granted every day, are unimaginable luxuries for these kids.
My experience in Argentina was hard. I missed home and I wasn’t peaceful in the Hogar. My days had no structure and I couldn’t find the means to have a bigger impact on the children. But as hard as it was, the hardest part was leaving the beautiful children and returning to my luxurious life.
Service trips wake us up to realities outside our experience. They make us be more aware of the struggles people face around the world, and the drastically different lifestyles that people lead. But these trips also open our eyes to the many blessings we have in our lives. So no matter what challenge we are facing right now, we know we are blessed with a life of luxury, and we need to remember to be grateful for that.