We do not choose whom to help

Miguel - Tenerife, Spain
Entered on May 27, 2008
Age Group: 18 - 30
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We do not choose whom to help

4 weeks ago, I was given the opportunity to discover myself in a new country. Social services in Peru are not a reality. Elderly and mentally challenged get thrown in rubbish bins simply because their families cannot take care of them.

Fortunately, there is a convent, La Victoria, where the sisterhood of Mother Theresa of Calcutta takes care of those who have been abandoned at will. A group of 18 of us spent 13 days at la Victoria. We went there for the first time on a Tuesday morning. At La Victoria, I saw what my eyes had never seen before. La Victoria is an old Spanish style 2 story building. There is a patio in the centre and a ramp connecting the 1st floor with the 2nd. The elderly are kept in the 1st floor, and the mentally challenged in the 2nd. Sister Regina took us on a tour the 1st day.

I saw people piled up on beds. I saw people peeing on the floor. I smelled misery, and I smelled sadness. The tour went on for 20 minutes. We then left. At night we discussed the day with our program leaders. None of us had words to describe how we felt. We just sat there. I broke the silence by selfishly and cowardly saying that in the upcoming days, I would rather work with the elderly than the mentally challenged. One of my teachers firmly replied: We do not choose whom to help. We just help.

Her words confronted my fears. The next day, it was work day. I got there at 9 and I was placed in the group of the elderly. From 9 to 11 we simply had to entertain them by coloring, by singing, and by dancing. At 11, it was lunchtime. I remember how they had to eat in turns because they didn’t have enough cutlery or chairs for everyone. Feeding the elderly was extremely hard. Some choked, some spat, and some insulted me. After lunch my job was done.

I did this same job for 4 days. On the 5th day, I was placed with the mentally challenged. I was so nervous my legs paralyzed. I could not climb up the ramp. Finally, I was pushed in by my friends. 25 mentally challenged kids were waiting for us. They were waiting for someone to give them joy and love, but I just couldn’t. My other teacher said, treat them like you would treat your siblings. I swear I tried, but there was something in me that was stopping me from helping. When we left that convent I remember how sick I felt that day. I had a terrible headache, something I had never felt before. Back at our hotel, the doctor said that my body was reacting to the many drastic emotions I felt that day.

The last day at La Victoria, was the hardest of them all. In those 14 days I had bonded with people who were very different from me, people who have nothing or no one; people who live awaiting their deaths. Before leaving, I went with Miss Vera to the chapel; we kneeled down and burst into tears. I tried my best to give thanks to God for all I have. I kept repeating: Thank you, thank you… but it wasn’t enough. My heart was full of guilt. I just couldn’t forgive myself for all I have, and for the very little they have.

This I believe: It is selfish to choose whom to help. I have learned that helping people is more rewarding than any other thing in the world. Helping made me better, helping made me better.