I never want to forget the names of these children
By Kim Gales
This is my first day in Guatemala and I’m already moved. Even after more than 10 hours of travel, lack of sleep and some aching muscles I still found it hard to hide my smile as we drove to assess the work at the Hogar Shalom Orphanage and School. Why? Because good deeds started the moment I woke up. My Foundation jacket says “It seems impossible until it’s possible,” but little did I know that would be my experience on day one.
After driving an hour into the mountains surrounding Guatemala City, we arrived in a small village tucked between a valley of sugar cane where the local women wear traditional tribal garbs, the walls of small homes are made from plywood scraps and tin for roofing and feral dogs run loose.
Our van stopped in front of the tall imposing cinderblock walls of the Hogar Shalom Orphanage and School, whose gates seemingly were reluctant to let anyone in. After many minutes of verification, we were permitted to enter into what I can only describe as an oasis of love. An immaculate landscape awaited inside the iron gates. Beautiful gardens surrounded the grounds and birds were chirping so loud it sounded like music. The care that is put into this place to protect vulnerable children as young as 7 is seen the moment you step inside. This is a home of safety, support and love far away from the dangers and difficulties of being without a family to rely on.
The children living here put so much pride and gratitude into everything that they do, from sweeping the floors with smiles on their faces to repairing rooftops with hammers and nails. I had to take a step back and be amazed. Even though these kids are here under unfortunate circumstances, I thank God they can be here where they are cared for. The children I’ve met are so heartwarming, curious, and lovable. I want so badly to remember each and everyone of their names.
I was especially touched by a little boy named Angel, no older than 7. His warm brown eyes and shy demeanor just connected with me immediately. Each of their innocent faces filled the air with laughter as they turned themselves around the merry-go round as fast as they could. This little moment was validation that love, care and a place to call home can mean everything to someone in need.
Our physical work is aimed at making their spaces joyful, homey and have a feeling of permanence. One task we are taking on is the painting of a large, and currently dreary looking playground. To start we thought it would be best to gather the children to see what colors they would like. Eagerly each shouted their favorite colors, excited to be asked their opinion. Azul! Rojo! Amarillo! It was wonderful to see their eyes light up while they proudly took ownership of their space.
On our second day we got to work and I honestly can’t wait for the boys to see their new playground. It’s not even done yet but the paint is already so transformative. The colors are vibrant, lively and full of joy… a far cry from the space we walked into. I just know it will make them feel even more comfortable and add more smiles to their faces.
Each time I see one of these beautiful children look at me with inquisitiveness, and with a little excitement that someone is there for them, it warms my heart. Scrubbing and painting their walls I imagine that they are wondering where I come from and what am I doing in their home struggling to speak their language. It is clear we all spark their curiosity.
I say hello and attempt to have a conversation in my broken Spanish. I’m not sure if I said good morning or good afternoon, but it made one beautiful young soul named Eduardo giggle and that’s good enough for me. I couldn’t help but look for Angel again today. His name fit him perfectly. He has a face like an angel. He’s a little shy yet strong and held his own today as he played soccer with the older boys. He had to be the smallest one there, no older than 7, but he never stopped trying to get the ball.
Every day the boys wake up at 4:30 am to do their chores which include washing clothes, cleaning and doing whatever is needed to keep their home in good shape, yet none of them seem tired. The game was well deserved and you could see the joy as they played. They seemed grateful, honored and proud of this place they call home. I am so honored and grateful for this opportunity that I have been given and it will most definitely send me home more humble and and more grateful for the simple joys of life itself. As I think about this, I am so looking forward to tomorrow’s work, knowing that it benefits these deserving children.
Impact Mission Volunteer
This is Kim’s second Mission Trip with the Foundation. Her previous trip to Peru in 2019 involved working with a shelter for young girls who experienced abuse. Her passion to help children in need is undeniable and infectious. Kim brings dedication, warmth and love to all the little ones she works with and she truly makes an impact in each of their lives.