For those of you who may not know, this past month I lived in Saint Lucia volunteering at a children's home in the Eastern Caribbean. This home shelters children who have been neglected and/or abused, ranging from the ages of 1-16 years.
At the beginning of my trip I was scared I wasn't going to be able to connect with the children on a personal level, and let me just say I was completely wrong. I've learned that children who have been neglected appreciate presence and the art of "giving of their time".
On the first day of working with the children we made it clear that before every day we would start our mornings with a journal prompt. We gifted them their own journals. I lead the journal activities this past month. Before taking on this task, I met with a certified therapist to help create lesson plans and journal prompts that would specifically cater to the children. The first week, we started off with a stencil figure of a body. And each child had the opportunity to draw themselves, point out different parts of their body that they liked, and include an explanation for each part. For example, an eight-year-old boy at the home put "I like my eyes because they allow me to see pretty things". Another child put "I like my heart because it allows me to love". I was so impressed by the children's interest in this activity. The other two volunteers and I also carried out activities that included outdoor games and team building activities.
When working with children in development, it's important to allow the child to acknowledge their feelings and reflect on them. This was my first time working with children who have been through trauma. So I was quite intimidated going into the experience. I didn't know if the children would be receptive to my activities or even have a general interest in us being there. But I quickly learned that the children each had an immense sense of hope, joy, and love inside them. Despite the terrible things they have individually been through they still carry a smile on their faces. They loved seeing us every day and that that alone gave me a new sense of hope.
Personally, I am a strong believer that we can all learn something from someone no matter their age. And these children taught me what the epitome of hope means.
I am writing this to let anyone know that no matter how hard the past may have been for you, you can overcome this. Things can get better as long as you open yourself up to new opportunities and happiness.
One of the hardest things I struggled with throughout this experience was trying to understand how such terrible circumstances could happen to such amazing children. But I quickly reminded myself that I may never fully understand, but there are far better things ahead for them all.
I have a new respect for child advocacy homes. I highly recommend volunteering at one in your own communities. The important thing to remember is; you don't have to travel across the world to do service work you can find a home in your own community.
I will forever carry on the lessons these children have taught me.