Con Una Sonrisa
Elevando sueños, construyendo oportunidades (Lifting dreams, constructing opportunities). That’s the motto of one of the volunteer organizations I’m working with throughout this semester: ADAPTA Chile. I don’t know much about the logistics of the program, but from what I understand, ADAPTA was founded and is still run by a group of university students. They’re original purpose was to help kids with down syndrome go surfing, but now it has spread to all sorts of discapacidades and a variety of sports, such as kayaking, slacklining, trekking, and of course, surfing still. The best part (well besides all the smiles of the students of course) is that as monitors, we’re expected to have just as much fun!
All of us GAP students went through a couple training sessions, and now almost every weekend, we work with other university monitors and different groups of about 10 students, some returning veterans and others new faces. We begin with a quick warm up, a game and then a group stretch. Then we break up into smaller groups, usually one or two monitors per student, and off we go, either hiking around a lake, hopping onto a surfboard, or walking, kneeling, sitting, jumping etc on a slackline. I’ve gone on a couple of hikes with a six year old boy named Vincent and his twin brother. Vincent has more energy than everybody else combined, a short attention span, and the cutest cheeks, and a good majority of the time when we’re not walking, the other monitor and I are taking turns playing catch the run away child! At one of the slacklining sessions, a girl named Rosalina approached me and said that my shoes were beautiful; we’ve been buddies ever since. I’ve particularly enjoyed working/hanging out with her because throughout the past couple of practices, she’s gone from holding the hands of two monitors while shakingly walking across the line, to confidently striding forwards and backwards with the help of only one finger (a feat some of us have yet to accomplish…). And one week she brought me a bag of Chilean candy.
When we first discovered that we were going to work with ADAPTA on the weekends as our mandatory volunteer organization, I was slightly disappointed because, like the other students, I had been looking forward to traveling on our three day weekends (our classes were specifically scheduled with the intention of giving us an extra day to explore). Then, the first several times brought about mixed feelings, because although the organization seemed like a good idea, I didn’t feel like I was contributing much; in addition to the language barrier (times 100000 when you’re talking to children with ADHD or vocal impairments…), I didn’t know the students well enough to interact with them or help them to push their boundaries in a comfortable way.
However, sticking with it paid off. I truly love ADAPTA now, and like almost all the volunteering experiences I’ve had, has become more than just me giving; it’s a two way relationship. Whenever I teach something, I learn something in return. When I help a 7 year old hold a pencil correctly to draw a cloud, he teaches me the word nube. When I’m patient, giving quiet motivation to the extremely nervous slackliner, they’re even more patient, doing their best to communicate with some crazy extranjera. One time, Jean-Pierre, one of the other monitors, told me to hop up onto the slackline, and I walked across holding on to only the shoulders of one of the students walking in front of me, also on the slackline (if that makes sense..). According to society, she’s handicapped, and here in Chile, I’m an obvious gringa, but as we were walking together, trusting each other completely, depending on only the other to keep from falling off, we were very much the same. When we made it, our smiles were mirror reflections, and let me tell you, there is little in this world that is better than a genuine whoop of glee and an enormous smile.
When I was walking home one afternoon, I ran into one of the other monitors from ADAPTA who's also a could-have-been pro parasailer and a local clown. He was heading the same direction, so we walked and talked for a while (He taught me about this insane sport that he partakes in where people race down the extremely steep, skinny, curvy, pot-hole filled, dangerous streets in Vaplaraiso on their bikes!). But anyways, right before I turned off onto my street, he said, “No te olvides, la mejor forma ver la vida es con una sonrisa.” (Don't forget, the best way to look at life is with a smile). To me, that's what ADAPTA is all about. The concept is simple, it's pure, it's true, and it's something we can all learn from.