Her name is Leah...
The day I forgot to think about me...
I live in Atlanta. Weather here is as bi-polar as it gets. Hot, humid, cool, humid, rainy, humid, hurrican--y, humid, snowy and humid. I can take the heat with the best of them. I have traveled to quite a few different Caribbean countries and experienced more hot......humid.........heat than any one person should have to endure in a lifetime. It gets pretty freaking hot in Atlanta in July...... same in Belize.
So, it came as no surprise to me when I was in Belize at the end of July with a group of service learners that (excuse my southernism here) I was sweating like a "stuck pig." It was hot, my hair was in a deep state of frizz unlike any frizz it had known before it. If any of you have ever netflix binged on the series "Friends" there's an episode where Monica is in the Caribbean and her hair is having a full on frizz on steroids affliction. I was Monica in this moment. Made no difference. I was about to take on 86 kids ages 3-12. I could handle it right?
The day started out ridiculously loud. 86 kids that have no idea who is in charge and really don't care, makes for a loud insanely crazy mess of a mess day that leaves one feeling as if the bus just hit them, backed up and invited 78 of his bus friends to come and help him hit you again. You try to claw and clutch your way out of the hole that exists in time during those insane 7 hours to regroup and figure out where it all went wrong. And then you go back the next day and shut that down like the beast boss you are because it's eat or be eaten. And I wasn't ready to be 86 kids next chicken thigh. Y'all hear what I'm sayin?
But on this first hot, ridiculously humid day, there was a little girl that caught my eye. Quiet. Just sitting there observing trying to see who she wanted to trust and who she knew she couldn't. I watched her for a few minutes and then kept kind of inching closer to her. Finally, as she was making dirt pudding in her snack crafts class, I went up to her and started talking to her. She didn't talk back to me. She looked down. I sat down next to her. Moved closer and said, "Before this week is over, we will be BFF's." She still didn't say anything but there was a small upward bend in the side of her mouth that indicated she might be trying to hide a smile. Her name was Leah. Affectionately now and forever more known as "Miss Sass."
Leah spent the day quietly figuring me out. I knew she needed time and I let her have it. More and more during the day she would move closer to me and eventually started asking if she could help me clean. I told her, "Absolutely!!!" and gave her some small chores to do to assist me. After she would finish each task I would tell her how amazingly she did and she would smile a little more each time. Leah was starting to trust me. Finally toward the end of the day she was hugging me and asking me about my life, my family, how many kids I had etc. She let herself trust me enough to figure out what I was doing there. As the week went on I saw Leah open up to all of the teachers, asking them if she could help or do a task that we needed help with. The other teachers started to catch on and let her help them as well. But she would always find me in the crowd and come give me big Leah hugs. Leah was letting her heart open, Leah needed to feel that warmth and love from whomever would give it to her. She had found her place if even just for a week. She was finding a reason to feel confident and wanted.
Leah was no different that most of the other students we had at the camp. They came everyday to understand their purpose to try to get a handle on the craziness in the world around them. They come from homes without electricity or running water and 99% of them don't have clean drinking water on a daily basis. Most of their parents are either addicted to heroin some of them are HIV/AIDS positive. Some of them have lost their parents to one or both. They wake up every morning trying to make sense of a world that there's little sense to be made.
When I am speaking to classes, I tell them the story about how these kids got hot meals every day at camp. And every day like clockwork you would have them asking us to write their names on their meals so they could only eat half of them and take the rest home....most of the time not for themselves.....rather for other family members they knew would not have eaten that day.
And that first day, in all its crazy hectic chaos I found myself not once thinking of how hot I was, where the sweat was dripping from, if or when I would eat, or when the day would end so I could get off of my feet. I watched them all in disbelief as they smiled and laughed and teased their friends and made fun of the teachers. I watched as they begged for additional "water pouches" to quench their thirsts so much that they wouldn't have to worry about it when they got home for the night. I watched. And I was amazed. I was amazed at how they had all adapted to their normal. How they just needed to be kids amidst the craziness and understand that for a hot second in time someone was there to ease their burdens if just for that crazy one day.
After watching that I understood the next day why 99 kids showed up instead of 86. I understood why they were sad that we didn't do a Saturday Sendoff instead of a Friday end to camp. They didn't want it to end.
Neither did I.
They taught me so much. Me. This mom of six 46 year old person who thought she had the whole thing figured out. I learned how to....not think about myself at all.... in one day.
If you aren't doing a service learning trip now.........do one later.........explore.........find out who you want to be in life.......experience another culture, language, lifestyle than your own I promise you it will change your perspective on all.the.things.
If you can't do a service learning trip, do something. Get out in your community, ask someone where you can help, find your purpose through someone else's eyes, ears, nose, and tastebuds. Feel life. Feel adventure. Give back. Just give.
We have spring and summer spots available so that you can go meet Leah. She's quite the celebrity now. She's featured on Ardenti's video about summer camp. Her smile lights up a room and she will change your world forever. Come with us during your spring break and see how working in a community other than your own makes you see things through a whole other lens. If you can't come spring, come with us in the summer. If you can't do it now there are ways you can help and give to this community or others. Feel free to contact us to find out how.
If you would like to help provide clean drinking water for this community we are asking at this time for everyone to donate the cost of a cup of coffee at Starbucks so that Ardenti can provide these kids with drinking water fountains in their community. You can donate here:
If you would like to sign up for one of the few spaces we have available for spring break or for our summer camp you can apply here:
Live. Laugh. Give. Love. Travel. See things. Understand Compassion. and
Until next time,
It's been fun chatting.
Leah and her smile...