by Janna Elwell, Greenheart Travel Volunteer in Chile
The hogar is buzzing with the excitement of all 80 kids here; as of this past Monday they are all officially on winter break. This means two things: no school for them for the next two weeks, and 14 days of non-stop work for us volunteers. Everyone is familiar with the cooped-up restlessness that students begin to feel after the first initial days of lounging around the house without the worries of school. The task of evading such restlessness has been assigned to Maja, Silvia and me. We’ve been planning workshops, competitions, excursions and activities, which we started to put into action this past week. We each still work with 3 of our students in the library during the mornings, and then transition into whatever activity we have planned for the afternoon. Monday and Tuesday were spent with the chiquititos- all of the kids ages 3 and 4. We had 3 different groups, each of which we played games with for an hour. These were particularly great days for me because we typically don´t get very much time to spend with the youngest kids since they don´t have scheduled library time. It was a refreshing change to be able to just run around and play outside, not having to beg and bribe anyone to focus on their homework!
Wednesday and Thursday all of the kids above the age of 5 had a very special event. There are 3 other hogars in the surrounding areas, none of which are affiliated, but all have the same purpose. Each year, during las vacaciones, all 4 of the hogars come together and hold a 2 day Olympiada, an Olympic competition complete with a torch running and opening and closing ceremonies. The kids have been preparing for the events for the past couple of weeks, working on their soccer, track, volleyball and ping-pong skills in hopes of taking gold in each category. Both days we bussed to the hosting hogar, about 15 minutes from here, and spent the entire day in competition.
Our hogar is unique in that we take in the youngest kids in need of a home, which is fantastic, but also gives us the disadvantage in the case of an Olympiada. Nevertheless, we stood by and cheered on the girls as they tried to bump the volleyball over a net three times their height; we encouraged the kids racing the track events as their tiny legs pumped and pumped to keep up with the bigger kids.
Above all, my favorite event to help coach was the soccer tournament. If any of you are familiar with the 1995 movie The Big Green, you know exactly what our team looked like. We without a doubt had the runts of the litter, dwarfed by their opponents. We had the adorable little chubby boy who would take a seat in the middle of the field at his own will, and the 2 or 3 kids who thought the only objective was to run in the exact opposite direction of the soccer ball. But we also had a handful of the fighters, unafraid to kick the shins of the older boys, insisting on playing through bloody noses. On the sidelines, I got to see firsthand the true Latino fiery passion of fútbol.
Fans continually screamed, taking the liberty of commentating every move while adding in their opinions along with a few choice words to voice their disapproval. Based on what I saw, in a friendly game for children, I can´t help but wonder how things are in the big league games! Needless to say, at the end of the competition we were considerably far from taking the championship. Nevertheless, our kids went up and proudly took their honorary trophy. At the end of the competitive events everyone gathered and enjoyed the night of closing festivities, eating completos and dancing the night away with the DJ under the stars.
The last day of the first week of las vacaciones brought another outing for the older kids–hiking! Us volunteers, with the help of another Tía, Nicole and the gym teacher Tío Sebastian, took a group of 20 kids to a trail-head just outside of Santiago. We took the hour-long bus ride through the city, a rarity for the kids who hardly ever leave Malloco. They all marveled at the tall buildings, gazed at the throngs of people and squealed with delight every time they caught a glimpse of sections of the above-ground metro. This really was an eye-opener for me, as I realized that many of these kids could count on one hand the number of times they had been outside of the 10 mile radius of Malloco.
Their fascination remained as we arrived at Parque Mahuida de La Reina. We began our first hike, and it required the control of all four of us adults to reign in the kids in order to maintain a collective group with everyone accounted for. Inevitably, after the first 15 minutes the 20 adventurous explorers had dwindled to 5, all the rest sluggishly trailing along pleading to be carried the rest of the way. Eventually, we made it to the top of the trail where we stopped to rest and eat lunch. From our vantage point we could see the entire span of Santiago (well, roughly anyway…it was really difficult to see clearly due to the ever-present smog cap). We remained there, playing games and enjoying the rare sunny day we had been graced with before making the descent. Although I typically wouldn’t recommend making a mountain excursion with 20 young kids, the amount of excitement the change of environment brought them made all of the exhaustion completely worth it.