While I had a ton of fun while down in Costa Rica, it wasn’t all play. Our purpose was to care for orphaned and less fortunate individuals, providing them with health care that they wouldn’t typically receive without our being there. I’ll try to briefly cover most of what we did and I will separate the mission portion in to 3 different posts. This post will focus on the Manos Abiertas field trips during our first 2.5 days down there. The other posts will focus on our main work at Manos over a week period and the health screening that we did in the Precarios. So here we go!
Manos Abiertas is a residence and hospital for children and adults who were unwanted by their families due to cognitive and physical impairments. It is currently run by some incredible women who have devoted themselves to God and to their work with these individuals in need. Here is a brief history on the facility and how it got started. About 24 years ago in the midst of the HIV uprise, two teenagers wanted to do something to help the increasing numbers of homeless women (and eventually men, too), so they began bringing them food. Others turned away from them while these two young women were determined to make a better life for these people. Soon enough, people got word and more homeless people in need came to receive food and help. Those in the community had heard about their efforts as well, and the two women were offered a house to keep these people in. Over the years, with the help of donations and the community, it was converted in to the orphanage for handicapped children and adults that it is now. The two Sister’s values that they started this facility with continue to thrive today through the inspirational Sisters now working here.
Our first task when we got to CR was to take the adult residents on two field trip days. Sunday evening, we each met our residents that we would be spending the next 2 days with. We were each paired up with residents, some of us with two classmates per resident, if they were more dependent. Sunday night’s meet and greet gave us an opportunity to figure out what kind of supplies (toys, games, sensory objects, etc.) or help we would need in order to optimally care for our individual resident. Monday was our first trip to a Hot Springs about 3 hours away (yes, 3 hours, on a bus.) But at least the scenery was enjoyable…
Once we spotted Volcano Arenal, we knew were close by; this was the Volcano that the Hot Springs feed off of!
Due to preference of the Sisters and for privacy reasons, we were not allowed to take pictures with the residents of Manos. This was unfortunate for those of us who were staying there for most of the 2 weeks to work (me), because we couldn’t capture the incredible moments that happened like some of our other classmates were able to do at other facilities. But we, obviously, respected this and did not take pictures. But here are a few pictures I snapped of the hot springs, before the residents got there (I was in a smaller bus with just classmates).
Now, when you think hot springs, you probably think: “Oh, they’re just going swimming and playing!” Okay, yes, we were just swimming. But think of it more like you’re going swimming with 40 full-grown toddlers who cannot communicate and have a tendency of running off if you stray too far from them. It was exhausting. This day was a little rough towards the end of the day – but that’s for another day’s post. Overall, it was a challenging day for our entire class but we learned that when we work together, we can accomplish anything that we are faced with.
Day two of the field trip was to a local park where there was a basketball court (shaded under a covering, thank goodness – the Costa Rican sun is HOT), a field area with trees for shade, and a swimming pool. Most of this day was spent interacting more one on one with our residents and trying to engage them in activities.
Learning how to communicate with my resident was one of the hardest parts for me these first two days. She was completely non-verbal, showed no inclination of being interested in what we were doing, enjoyed wandering off from the group, put anything and everything in to her mouth, and followed commands maybe 15% of the time. I’m pretty sure I had my hand in her mouth at least 25 times a day trying to fish out whatever she put in there – rubber bands, sticks, chips from the ground, leaves, shirts, whatever. While it was extremely frustrating for me, it also gave me a huge new-found respect for 24 hour caregivers, as well as for the Sisters at Manos. This also allowed me to test myself – to see what I could pull out of my case of knowledge to try to engage this woman more. I tried just about everything: soccer balls, painting, coloring, textured items, music, you name it. But she really just enjoyed walking around and observing others. So that’s what we did. We held hands and walked around and eventually worked on a nature/art project that the Sister’s had asked us to do with the residents. It was a rewarding day for all of us. Even though I was frustrated most of the day because I didn’t know if I was making an impact at all, looking at the big picture I realized that my spending time one on one with this woman is probably the most attention she has received in months.
Many of the residents that we were working with (like mine) are non-verbal and have cognitive impairments that limited our ways of communicating with them. However, despite this and despite the additional language barrier, I, and many classmates, were amazed at how well we connected with the residents. Many of us formed strong bonds with our residents just in those two days. After the second field trip day, many of my classmates had to say tearful goodbyes to their residents – as the next day began our work in different facilities. Although we couldn’t talk to them and find out what exactly was going through their minds, using body language, smiles and enthusiasm, we were able to detect how much we were changing their lives. More importantly, we saw how much they were changing ours, as well.
Check back in tomorrow for a recap on the week and a half spent at Manos Abiertas working with the children in the hospital.