At the Fundación Salvación, there were many children who touched my heart. The children not only desperately need love, but they have much love to give. On a regular basis, these children meet new people who they bond with and love and as quickly as people come into their lives, they leave again. The children have no shortage of experience dealing with loss. The children have already lost their parents, families, homes and whatever sort of life they led before being taken in by Sandra. With the set up of the orphanage as it is, many of the children re-experience the loss of their parents on a regular basis. There are visitation days on a regular basis and on these days the children’s parents may visit. This can be heartbreaking in many ways. For some children, they must see other kids get visits, while their parents may never come. It is also heartbreaking to see the parents who cannot afford to provide for you. Another situation regarding the parents at Fundación Salvación is that some parents may work at the orphanage. This is the reality for the girl who stole my heart, Mishel.
Mishel is four years old. Mishel’s mother, Loyda, works for the orphanage. Mishel was born at Fundación Salvación and she has an older brother named Gustavo. Though it is apparent that Mishel is well taken care of, her mother dresses her in the morning and puts earrings on her, but it seems as though the relationship with her mother is inconsistent at best. From the story Sandra told at her house, it is unclear, but her mother has a past of working on the street and that some times she leaves the orphanage for extended periods of time. When Loyda is at Fundación Salvación, she is attentive to Mishel and Gustavo, but she does not seem to be there reliably. This inconsistent presence of Mishel’s mother has to leave her constantly wondering whether or not her mother will return. Because of these trust issues Mishel may experience lasting damage, emotionally and psychologically. Mishel will probably have a difficult time forming lasting bonds and strong relationships with others. The impact of Mishel’s situation to her attitude is already presenting itself. In the short time I spent with Mishel, I experience the impact first hand.
From the first day I arrived at Fundación Salvación, I connected with Mishel. She became ‘mi amiga’ and the feeling was mutual. Whenever our bus would pull into Fundación Salvación, I could see her standing on the side with her little brown eyes searching. Everyday she stood and looked for me. She loved to swing and most days she would grab my hand to lead me to the swing before both of my feet stepped off the bus. When we went to Zacaleu, I sat in the circle with her and her friends and she made sure to point out to the girls that I was her amiga. I left the circle while the girls finished off another pizza and climbed one of the temples. Before I knew it, Mishel had climbed to the top to find me. I knew in these days that I would never forget Mishel and I could only hope that she would never forget me.
On the last Thursday spent in Huehuetenango, I feared that had changed. When I tried to talk to Mishel, she ignored me and when I went to pick her, she screamed. My heart ached to think Mishel had gotten bored with me and moved on. Mishel chose to only spend time with Erick and Ana from this point on. Erick and Ana were familiar and would mostly likely return. One of the other little girls who I had spent time with and who was friends with Mishel was Kali. Kali attempted to explain to me why Mishel had decided to not talk to me. My Spanish skills were not to a level that would help me to understand the situation and when I brought Francisco over to translate, Kali did not want to tell him. Kali did decide though that she wanted to play with me and that she wanted me to herself. Throughout the trip, Kali had been fickle and pretended to not know me some days, while other days she would smile and hug me. I was able to understand that this was probably Kali’s coping method for not getting too attached to any one visitor. Kali is seven years old and has probably grown accustomed to the cycle. Despite recognizing this in Kali, I still felt heartbroken about Mishel ignoring me.
When I returned to the hotel, I was still very upset over the situation. I had grown to love Mishel so much over the past two weeks and hated that in my last two days, she did not want to have anything to do with me. I discussed the situation with Mickenzie. I was very relieved when I listened to Mickenzie’s perspective on the situation. She told me that she had been watching Mishel and whenever I would play with another child, Mishel would be watching me. So my fears were resolved, Mishel didn’t dislike me. Mishel was simply protecting herself and getting ready for my imminent departure. When I finally was able to translate Kali’s message to me about Mishel, I was right. Kali told me that Mishel realized that I was leaving and that she was very sad.
For these children the reality of losing loved ones is not simply in their pasts, but a continual cycle. Our last day at Fundación Salvación was the day we went to Todos Santos. We only had a short period of time before and after the trip to spend with the children. When we first arrived that morning, Mishel did not want to talk to me. Eventually, she decided that she wanted me to see her baby pictures and talk to her mom. After her mom and I finished talking, the best we could with my broken Spanish, Mishel was out. She ran off and pretended not to notice me until we left. When we returned from Todos Santos for our very last good byes, she still did not want to talk to me. Just as we were leaving Mishel gave me one last tearful hug goodbye.
I can only hope that this will not be our last hug. Though the small amount of love that missionaries can give the children in their short visits is very important and beneficial, I think that lasting bonds with the children are also very important. Knowing that at least one person cares about you enough to keep in touch can do a world of good. Even with different living situations, that include living in a ‘normal’ home with ‘normal’ parents, children need someone who truly cares and shows the intent. I hope that I can keep in touch with Mishel and return to visit her. I will continue to follow her life journey and continually pray that she will grow into an amazing woman that knows what it means to be loved.