Let me tell you about a boy who is always smiling. I knew very little about the daily struggles of children that live in rural Guatemala. Having grown up in Guatemala City, I was never faced with the reality of not knowing where my next meal would come from, or if I would be able to attend school. I had a pretty comfortable and blessed life as a child. I figured, the best way for me to experience the reality of a rural child was to go and meet them face to face, and spend time with them.
One day, I met Diego and his older brother. Diego was a bright eight year old, who was always happy and smiling. One day, my friend and I asked him and the other children “What is your greatest wish?” Some of the children said that they wanted sneakers, some a computer, or a soccer ball, but when Diego’s turn came, his eyes started to water as he spoke in a gentle voice. It was obvious that Diego was speaking from the depths of his heart. His only wish was for his mother to come home. You see, Diego’s mother had just moved to the city to work as a janitor, since work in their community was not available, especially for women.
Later in the afternoon we all played a soccer game together, as that was the best way for us to bond and become more comfortable with each other. It was a treat for these children to actually play on a field, since they did not have the money to rent the field even for an hour. The kids and volunteers all needed appropriate shoes to play on the field, but little Diego did not have any shoes. What’s so remarkable is that even though Diego was not allowed to play soccer, his bright smile and positive attitude did not diminish or deter him from wanting to participate. We decided to take Diego to a thrift store and purchased the necessary shoes for him to play soccer with us.
We had a great game with all of the kids. We laughed and had lots of fun. We left the soccer field, but not before Diego came to me with a white plastic bag containing the shoes we purchased for him just an hour earlier. Diego handed the shoes back to me and said “Thank you seño (Miss).” I fell in love with Diego’s attitude and his smile, which became even brighter when he found out that I did not want the shoes back, and that the new shoes were his to keep.
Diego and his story is one of many that keeps me excited to have the opportunity to work with children in developing their community through education, literacy, nutrition, and community development programs.