Don’t cry because it is over, smile because it happened.
Is it acceptable to both smile and cry? Forty-four days ago I departed to my destination 4,042 miles away from everything that was familiar to me. At that time I said goodbye to my family and friends and looked with optimism towards all that awaited me on the other side of the equator. As I say my final goodbyes to the strangers that have become my family and to the country that now holds such a special place in my heart I find it hard to control my feelings. I am excited to return home to see my parents, to pack my bags and head back to PC for my junior year, and to (finally) enjoy a cup of Starbucks coffee. I am happy to have seen and experienced all that the Centro de Obras Sociales Maternidad de Maria has to offer, to have fallen so deeply for the sixteen children who I so wish were coming back to America with me, and to have had such a positive experience over the past two months. But with this excitement comes sadness and guilt, sadness to leave all that I have come to love behind and guilt to know how vastly different the world I will return to will be. Amongst the roller coaster of feelings that I have been experiencing, I was also able to have an amazing last week in Chimbote.
Friday began the first of my “lasts” here in Chimbote as I departed on my last home visit. I remember how excited I was the first day I received my little medical bag, and how I couldn’t wait to share my experiences on the blog. I was so very fortunate to have met so many wonderful people on home visits. Each day and each story was so vastly different, but the one common element that each person had was gratitude.On my last day I brought a PC friars shirt with me. I had no set destination for this shirt, but wanted to give it to someone so that a piece of Providence would always remain in Peru. We visited a woman who has thyroid cancer. Her cancer, which is untreatable, is completely consuming her. She no longer has feeling in the right side of her body, her arm has gone limp, and the tumor that she has now has engulfed her throat making it hard for her to talk. Her mother has also recently been diagnosed with cancer. As we talked to this woman, I decided that my shirt should go to her. I explained that I had received this shirt from my school and that I wished for her to keep it. She was so excited and grateful to receive the shirt and even attempted to say GO FRIARS (which was written on the back of the shirt).
Sandra, my favorite little girl celebrates her first birthday on August 18th. Because I will be traveling home and no longer in Chimbote I decided to celebrate her birthday before I left. First birthdays are a very big deal here in Chimbote since for so many years many children did not live to see their first year due to poor prenatal care and horrible postnatal care in the home. Every person in the maternity knew that Saturday afternoon was going to be a special one and a huge celebration for “Kate’s princesa” would be held around three o’clock, I say “around” because nothing is ever right on time here in Peru. This celebration was complete with chocolate cake, candies, popcorn, music, dancing and of course, a lot of laughter and love. I am so glad that I was able to share in this special day with my sweet girl.
On Monday I was able to visit Kenji in Lima, who had recently undergone surgery to repair his cleft palate and cleft lip. Kenji was found malnourished on a home visit and was taken into the care of the Maternidad right before I came to Peru. Donations to the center we are able to provide this little boy with a new chance on life and a new smile. I met Kenji in Lima before I headed to the airport and before he boarded the bus back to Chimbote. He had been agitated and hadn’t been able to sleep much since his surgery, but after a few minutes in my arms he decided it was time to rest and fell fast asleep on the floor (the only place he wanted to be) holding my hand.
Before and after! Doesn’t he look handsome?
Each day after morning prayers Sister Margaret Mary would remind us to keep the values of Faith, Service and Love in our hearts and minds through out the day. As I look back on my journey these three values were vital in all that I experienced and did. Before I left for my trip I remarked on how my faith would guide me through this journey. My faith was an important component of my trip and was deeply strengthened during my time in Chimbote. I was inspired by the faith of the Peruvian people both in their devotion at Mass and in the way that they carried out their lives. God was and is present in each of these people and it was clear to me in all that I did; in my commute to work where I would see taxi drivers gathered for miles waiting for hours to receive gas for their cars (there is currently a shortage in Peru), in the procedure room as I held the hands of patients having their wounds cleaned, in the faces of the newborn babies and the joy of their mothers when they first saw their child, and in each home that I visited in the barrios. Through these people I saw God and I found an even greater meaning and appreciation for my faith.
The goal of my trip was to serve. In my initial email to Sr. Lillian I wrote that I hoped “the clinic was in need of a college girl with a servant’s heart who wanted more than anything to have the opportunity to work with them in Chimbote.” I tried each and every day to embrace every moment and to live the message of the Gospel in all that I set out to do. The mission statement of the center encourages all to “servir con amor cristiano“, to serve with Christian love, and I did my best to serve and to bring joy to the patients and families of the center both within their gates and in community.
On Sunday morning I left Chimbote for Lima. I tried my best to remind myself that I should be happy and that I should be smiling. I said my goodbyes to everyone at La Casa and headed to spend my remaining time with the babies. I held Pedrito for the last time, fed Diego a cookie and danced in the kitchen with Angelita. It was in these simple moments that I was reminded of how truly blessed I was to have had these children and the people of Chimbote in my life. I was able to experience things at nineteen years old that some don’t get to experience in their lifetime. I was able to love. I felt love from these children as I kissed each one good night and as I walked in to the kitchen each morning to a choir of children gleefully yelling “hola Kate.” If I am sure of anything on my journey it is that I loved with my whole heart, and that I will continue to love these children and the people of Chimbote long after I return to Providence.
The goodbyes were bittersweet for me, but I knew in my heart that it was time for me to go home. I am so incredibly grateful for this experience and know that it would not have been possible if not for the Father Smith Fellowship Program at Providence College, the extreme hospitality of Sister Lillian and Sister Margaret Mary and the Dominican Sisters of Grand Rapids Michigan, and the constant support and love of everyone back home. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for following me along on this incredible journey. May the love, faith, and strength of the people of Chimbote expressed through my stories remain in your heart for ever, because they will always remain in mine.
Gracias por todo, Chimbote.