By Silvia Saldivar
Clap snap, clap clap snap, snap clap, snap clap clap, ssshhh. Echos flew through the room as smiles started to appear. My brain, overwhelmed with emotions, was rambling around scurrying trying to grasp what a young seven year old Bulgarian girl was trying to teach me. The young girls were about to abandon the hope of teaching me their version of patty cake, and this was suddenly way more pressure on my shoulders than any college class. The sensation of her little hands pounding into mine warmed my insides, and phenomenally, my brain wires plugged in and I was able to last longer than a minute at her game I half understood, sharing smiles as we played.
Today we volunteered in the learning center of Caritas, a global Catholic charity that runs multiple operations in Greece. When we first arrived, two women greeted us with enormous smiles, and the whole room seemed to fill with joy. Walking in a bright white room full of toys and colorful paintings that filled the walls, I noticed a painted tree that had words like, solidarity, peace, and diversity written on the branches. Ease filled my mind and body; I knew we were in the right place.
In the back of the room, four young girls stared at us cautiously, assessing us from toe to head. Their eyes analyzed us for danger since we were coming into their safe space. Comfort was what they had with each other and where they were at, and it was up to us to gain their trust. We did an activity which included the global map, and every couple of minutes eyes wandered around craving the toys in the corner of the room. Although I have seen many maps in my life, the world laid out before me seemed enormous. All of a sudden, eighteen adult pair of eyes were staring at me, along with four small little eyes. Two of their eyes were as clear as the sky on a beautiful day, the other was as enjoyable as a piece of chocolate after being on a diet. I found myself dancing in front of all these pair of eyes in order to try to explain that I was from Mexico. I tried to express its beautiful attractions and way of life. Little giggles filled the room and cautious eyes soon turned playful, and I understood this would be a path to trust and friendship.
The experience with Caritas is one I will not forget. The children filled my heart with joy and fueled my passion for humanitarian aid even more (after all, I am an ISCOR major). Although they combat many stereotypes, these children shared their time with us, their laughs with us, They taught us their games and we showed them ours. Their struggles could not possible define them, nor can they be separated from them. They are like us, just as their families are like our families.
This work serves as a reminder that we cannot present refugees as one dimensional caricatures of people. We have a responsibility to break the stereotypes of refugees. Today I learned children are just children and sometimes they just want to have fun. A sign from the Caritas wall reads, “be the change you wish to see in the world,” and I accept the challenge.