We live focused on ourselves, our lives, our families, friends and work. We get emotional when we see a television feature about someone who is less fortunate than us, but when the soap opera begins we’ve already forgotten the story that touched our soul for a minute. What if we looked around for a moment? What if we gave some of our precious time to others?
With this in mind I decided to become a volunteer. I had wanted to do it for a long time, but I lacked time, availability and a places to do it, something was always missing, or all of those were excuses precisely because I was too focused on myself.
Something changed this summer and I decided to give up two weeks of my vacation time to go volunteer with children with special educational needs. I spent two weeks at a holiday camp for children with a special sparkle in their eyes. The challenge was to make children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, Cerebral Palsy and so many other syndromes whose names matter little or nothing play soccer, swim, dance, and above all, play!
Playing is something all children should do, because it is essential for the acquisition of skills that children need to acquire; it is through playing that children get to explore the environment and the world that surrounds them. Those who already know what occupational therapy is, know that this camp was in everything related to the ideals of the profession, although it was not the exact same thing. Just because of that correlation I can say I found myself super excited about this challenge!
The schedule was tough and the days asked for time spent on the beach, but I can say that it was the best experience of my summer and one of the best in my life. I was quite nervous on my first day, and the fear of failure was eating my insides. Well, maybe it was not just the first day, because of the immense responsibility and of the constant challenges.
The day would begin with the parting of the parents. As for any child, this was not easy and sometimes the first tantrum of the day would happen right then and there. But it was only the first! During the day, there were many more tantrums to manage: during meals, during trips to the bathroom and, worst off all, for no apparent reason. In those moments, I felt lost. But why? Why did he hit me? What did I do wrong? Why is he crying if we were both just singing and he looked happy? Many questions emerged in my head, but the days went by and it was necessary to continue giving those children everything they deserve. Opportunities to play, to jump, run and to be happy as any child should be.
Often this is what is missing in these children’s life: we fail to stimulate these children, we fail to give them a little of our time, to be patient for and with them, and to realize that they deserve opportunities. I hope this post alerts you to this: before they have any kind of illness, they are children. Always look at them like that, children. They can play, they can communicate, they can be as adorable as any other child; it just takes some time to get them captivated, and they do not deserve for us to give up on them.
I can say, without taboos, that there were times when I was afraid. Yes, some of these children went through tantrums that frightened me, had aggressive behaviors that made me uncomfortable and afraid to reach them. But I quickly realized that if I allowed this fear to seize me, I would cut off any kind of connection that could be established with those children, I would prevent a lot of good times that we could spend together and, above all, I would be unfair to them, for we are all much more than our bad moments and attitudes.
I allowed myself to play, to hug, to kiss, to sing, to dance, to jump, and to genuinely be with them, without constantly thinking of something bad that could happen. And when something bad happened I had the camp coordinators and my fellow monitors there to help me and teach me how to deal with it. I learned so much! I really feel that it was essential for my academic career to have this experience, to the point where I was so fascinated with the field, that it may well become an option for my next internship.
I bring with me the smiles, the hugs, the kisses and the songs. I bring with me the tears on the faces of the mothers who thanked us for making their children happy over these two weeks. I confirmed, once again, that difference is not an obstacle for anything and that children will always be children, regardless of their condition.
This post was originally written in Portuguese. Click here to read the Portuguese version.