Returning to the children of Guatemala

Returning to the children of Guatemala

June 15, 2013
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Chelsea Dicks grins as Belen takes a picture of the two of them with a phone at the orphanage in Patzun, Guatemala.
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The orphange in Patzun, where 72 children live
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Belen sits at a desk doing her school work of writing letters and her name.
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Older kids in the orphanage in Patzun gather together to work on their homework after school.
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Chelsea Dicks / Observer-Reporter
A view of Lake Atitlan surrounded by three volcanoes with a view of the lake towns in Guatemala. Order a Print
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An example of some of the crops grown in Patzun with a distant view of two of Guatemala’s volcanoes
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Chelsea Dicks / Observer-Reporter
The market in Patzun where members of the town sell and buy produce, meat and other necessities throughout the streets. Order a Print
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Chelsea Dicks, far left, Jenna Morris, middle, and Sarah Bell, far right, are seen with two girls at the orphanage, Ingrid, left, and Julio , right, dressed in the native clothing of Guatemala.
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Chelsea Dicks / Observer-Reporter
A child at the orphanage named Alex draws a picture with his feet due to the inability to use his hands. Order a Print
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Chelsea Dicks / Observer-Reporter
The buildings that serve as an orphanage, a pre-school, a hospital, a dentist office and a charity organization where Chelsea Dicks and the other members of her group stayed. Order a Print

Let’s go back in time, back to when life was easy.

The 5-year-old Chelsea:

I remember waking up to the sound of my mother gently telling me it was time to get up for school. I would wake up, take a hot steaming shower and put on the clothes my mother had laid out for me. They always smelled so clean and fresh.

I remember sitting down at the table after picking my favorite box of sugary delicious cereal and eating as much as I wanted until I was satisfied.

I remember school being fun and learning to write my name ever so slowly, C-H-E-L-S-E-A D-I-C-K-S. Lunch time was even better as I opened up my lunch box to my fruit roll up, Capri Sun, a fruit cup and my bologna sandwich cut into the shape of a heart.

I remember life being very easy.

Now, let’s jump to the present, where life isn’t so easy.

The 5-year-old Belen:

She wakes up as the fourth pipe bomb goes off, her ear drums still vibrating from the closeness of the explosion. She feels no fear as she has grown accustomed to the loud noise.

She realizes how cold she is, even though Guatemala is known for its warm temperatures during the day and its chilly temperatures at night, but she does not own another blanket to wrap around her small body.

She wakes up to the cries of the eight other children within the small room, and helps the younger children out of their cribs.

Her caretakers place her in a small sink where ice cold water is poured all over her. No matter how many times she goes through this, she cannot stop her body from shaking.

She follows her caretakers who place layer upon layer of worn shirts, socks and pants that are much too big on her. Her solution: A shoelace that she uses as a belt to try and keep her pants up.

She is placed in one of the seven high chairs that line the wall of the small room along with her other roommates. Before her is placed a plantain, a small portion of refried beans and a white soggy mixture of protein and vitamins that she always saves until last because she hates it so much. Unfortunately she has to eat it so she does not become malnourished.

After her caretakers handle the other eight children who are covered in their own mess, she is led out of the small room and into another and sits at a round table where a notebook is placed in front of her.

She takes a pencil from the center of the table and begins to write her name very slowly, B-E-L-E-N. She has to stop there because unlike all of the other children, she doesn’t even own a last name.

The orphanage

Belen is one of 72 children at the Centro Nutricional y Hogar de Ninos orphanage in Patzun, Guatemala. Many of the children placed in the orphange are there, not because they have no parents, but because their parents are too poor to care for them or the chidlren are victims of abuse. But make no mistake – Belen is an orphan in the truest sense.

When she was only 2 days old her parents left her in a ditch on the side of the road on Christmas Eve. Luckily a farmer found her still breathing and took her to the nutritional center where they began the process to make her healthy again. After searching, they still never found out who the young girl’s parents were.

The orphanage was never able to give her a last name but they did give her a first name.

They named her Belen, which in Spanish means Bethlehem to symbolize her being saved so near to Christmas.

Her sad story and the many others of the children at the orphanage are the reasons that I and 11 other people went on a mission trip to the nutritional center from May 30 to June 6.

I could state the usual – it was a life changing experience, I will never be the same, so many God moments – you know the phrases you hear from every person who goes on a trip like this one. Truly there is nothing wrong with them because they are all true for me, but instead of telling you, I want to show you: The good, the bad and the worth-it-moments that made my trip unlike any other.

As soon as I exited the bus and entered the walled-in orphanage, I immediately heard screaming and before I could even turn around I felt little arms wrapping themselves around me.

I looked down at their huge smiles as they screamed “Chelsea!” and buried their faces into my stomach.

They remembered me.

I had gone to the orphanage before, in November with Waynesburg University. After that trip I left feeling like I hadn’t left as big of an impression on the kids as I had hoped to, but as I was bombarded to the ground by multiple tan little angels screaming my name, I knew I had been wrong.

That was a good moment.

At the orphanage we all create special bonds with some of the children. We all have our favorites. Mine are Belen and a 12-year-old boy named Elias who is pure trouble, but I love him.

The younger kids, such as Belen, were always easier for me to create relationships with because there wasn’t a huge language barrier between us. All you had to do was hold, tickle, hug, dance and play with them and they were satisfied, but with the teenage children, it was much different.

Cultural adjustments

Even though I took four years of Spanish in high school, I do not remember a thing except for como esta, como te llamas, and no comprende espanol, which I used most often. Because of this, talking to the teenage girls and boys was very hard, which hindered our relationships.

So kids pay attention to your foreign language classes in high school, trust me you never know what life is going to throw at you.

Like the main language change, I had to adjust myself to other changes. In Guatemala it is a dry heat all year round but in the summer, it is their rainy season, so rain boots were a necessity that luckily I had. The biggest challenge for me was the food and eating in Guatemala is always an adventure.

After being served what I thought was chocolate pudding and ended up being refried beans for breakfast the first day, I was done.

Then there was a bloody chicken leg, shrimp that came from who-knows-where, considering there is no ocean near Patzun, an indescribable soup with some brown stuff floating around in it. I was craving my mom’s cooking, even though she is a terrible cook.

I couldn’t even run to the sink and wash my mouth out because like Mexico, I could not drink the water. Even brushing my teeth became a scary thought, considering I may accidentally dip my toothbrush underneath the sink out of habit and become very sick, and then in my dramatic mind, die.

But I survived, even though I ate an uncooked tomato and got shocked by my shower because the wires were not covered.

Sure there were moments, like the freezing shower, petty disagreements, not being able to wear shorts in a hot climate out of respect for the nuns who run the nutritional center and the fact that our flight home was canceled after sitting on a plane for two and a half hours.

Then I remember the soft little hands that perfectly fit in mine as we walked the children home from school; the paint being smeared on my face by Elias as he helped us paint a wall out of the goodness of his heart; listening to the children sing along with the “High School Musical” movie; and having page after page of my journal filled with letters of love from the children.

I am already counting the days until January when I return to my beloved little children and get to see my Belen run into my arms, see her little dimple form on the side of her smile and feel her hands encase my face as she says “Chelsea mi bonita.” And I can echo my little ditch baby and say, “Belen my beautiful.”

Editor’s note: Chelsea Dicks, who will be a junior this fall at Waynesburg University, is working this summer as an intern in the Greene County office of the Observer-Reporter.



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