Thursday, December 22, 2011


A good night tonight after a hot as balls day. There is a warm breeze blowing the leaves beneath the stars. No moon, so far. Across the street at the Samudio house there are loud male voices and Brazilian sertanejo music on the stereo. There are just a few lights and I just have a candle and a beercan-oillamp lit, because my porch light is a fluorescent tube which is blindingly powerful.
There was no power or water for most of today, which, combined with the debilitating heat, made it a pretty low key day. The national power company ANDE was replacing power poles in our neighborhood, replacing old palm tree trunk poles with concrete ones. The water thankfully came on again around 5 and I was able to take a cold shower and finally get around to some laundry. The power came back on around 7. I rarely lose power or water, but they do both go out together sometimes. I am thankful for my regular water, which is not foul tasting either, when I hear from other volunteers that more often than not have no water in their pipes.
Today my only real activity was to go by the comedor (literally 'eater', where poor kids get lunch 3 days a week) and I gave out Christmas gifts to all the kids there. When dad came to visit I casually suggested he might bring down some toys, as there are lots of kids in my part of town and I rarely see them with any. He brought a shoe box and a bag stuffed with all sorts of action figures and matchbox cars and old beanie babies left over from my childhood and from Granny's Attic (best thrift store ever, back home). I had about 60 items, over varying size and quality, and figured I could let each kid in the comedor choose one toy and still have plenty left over. It actually was a little less chaotic than I expected, and only got mob-like at the very end. Walking home I felt good about putting these toys to good use, but weird about the way in which it had happened.
We do not want to be seen here as purveyors of charity here. It is a whole touchy issue, but comes back to the idea of good development, of helping folks help themselves. It seems silly to split hairs when it comes to giving toys to poor kids, but even so I realized the way it happened was unpleasant to me. The mobbing was to be expected, especially with no planning and with Teresita, the philanthropic Señora in charge, absent today. And I hold the right of kids to have toys above philosophical distinctions about charity and development. But the point of giving out Christmas presents should have been to help establish a relationship with the kid.
Hannah Freedman, my neighbor an hour away in San Pedro de Ycuamandiyu, has done amazing things just getting to know and trust a group of kids there who have grown up mostly neglected and occasionally abused. She trusts and opens her life and home to these kids far more than most volunteers are willing to do, and finds them usually to be kind, smart, honest and helpful. I´m always amazed how they clean up after themselves; legoes, paint, food, whatever. What she says is that these kids have just been ignored by adults their whole lives and that when they do get a little bit of attention and appreciation they shine.
The point then in this Christmas gift business is that it is a great opportunity to establish something personal, to say to the kid that they are important and special and that they matter in the world. To build some self-worth, (which anyhow is a core focus of my project group: Education and Youth Development). What I felt I ended up with instead was a more or less impersonal charity hand out. All the more so since it was within what is in fact a charity hand out (for all its merits), the comedor itself. The rest of the toys I´ll be giving out to kids I know in the neighborhood and around town. That will be more personal, and more satisfying.
I just hope they play shit out of those toys.

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