The first time that we went to the San Judas Chico Orphanage, the astonishing noise of the airplanes deafened us for a few seconds. A strong, deafening sound made the whole place shake so hard we felt it in our bones and the same question came to everyone’s mind: How was it possible to live next to the take-off runway of an airport without going crazy?
One week later, none of us noticed the thunderous sound that we heard every day during our work shifts. Like they say, man is a creature of habit.
We can get used to a new country, new friends, and even a new family, but where is the boundary between habit and conformity? When is the moment in which we become so used to a specific reality that we stop hoping that new and different things can happen to us?
A year ago, we asked Joanna about her future. The beautiful, barely-11-year-old girl looked at us and without hesitation gave her answer: singer. She wanted to be a famous music singer that would travel all of Peru and around the world. She even had some designs for future dresses. Joanna had been living in the orphanage for less than one week.
Two weeks ago we asked her the same question, but this time she hesitated a little before answering. It seemed like the word just wouldn’t leave her mouth, until with a sigh she said, Cosmetology.
Cosmetology is the only technical career that the orphanage can afford to pay for these girls that are never adopted and can’t return to their parents.
Joana will soon be 13 years old, and in spite of maintaining her beautiful smile so characteristic of her, she realizes that her age combined with the fact that she has already been in the orphanage for one year, makes her chance of being adopted very slim. She doesn’t dream about entering the university either. She knows all to well, just as the rest of the girls do, that when she is 18 years old, she will be forced to leave the orphanage and begin to study cosmetology one way or another because it is all that she will be able to afford. And, in the meantime, there isn’t much she can do but wait for that day to come.
We also met Jessica, who in a few months will leave the orphanage behind. She turned 18 faster than she thought she would, but she’s not afraid. Since she’s the oldest of all the girls, she’s the substitute mom on Sundays when the tutors and teachers rest. She wants to study law at the public university in Cusco and while she knows it won’t be easy working as a cosmetologist to pay for her dream at least it will be hers. And, she will be able to use her degree to defend the rights of all the girls she saw growing up who were hurt from by people surrounding them.
Dreams, hopes, customs, and resignations intermix in this small place hopelessly located beside the take-off runway in Cusco’s main airport. Sad and dark memories are lightened by the warm rays of sunlight that occasionally illuminate this place, a place of refuge where all the abandoned girls end up thanks to social services. Maybe the food isn’t the best, or maybe the beds aren’t that comfortable, but Joanna knows that her bed now is amazing compared to the one she used to have before.
It’s those small things, like a wall well-painted, a new auditorium, a renovated playground, things that remind us that the new and interesting things can keep happening. That one day, someone could give you a new hat, like Judith who never thought she would ever receive a gift like that from a volunteer. Or like Letizia, who fulfilled her dream of having a Korean boy, like her k-pop idols, giving her hugs…small things that bring out smiles when we think of them.
The orphanage shines bright and new today, thanks to the volunteers’ work from MEDLIFE. Even the old basketball hoop on the playground shines. Even Aslan, the old dog that just showed up one day and never wanted to leave, seems brighter. The auditorium is almost finished and all the girls will be able to use it soon.
Without letting her arms away from all the good-looking boys who visit the orphanage, Joanna smiles and then starts to braid all the girls’ hair. Maybe she will be a cosmetologist, but she’ll be the best cosmetologist in Peru and in all the world.
This year we will have gone ten times to the orphanage to construct, paint, repair, and bring happiness to these girls who have stolen all our hearts.
Joanna, Maria, Judith, Letizia, Jessica…These girls have learned that life isn’t easy and that sometimes the best family isn’t necessarily the one you share blood with, but rather the one that brings you love and warmth. And maybe the San Judas Chico Orphanage isn’t the biggest or the best, but the shared dolls are enjoyed more and the second hand clothes provide just as much warmth as new clothes in the cold Cusco weather.