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A Skate as a Child's Weapon; Volunteering as Abandonment

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I found a nice piece of writing today, oddly enough, because it mentions a child using an inline skate as a weapon against other kids. I opened the article, An Island in Costa Rica, by Tara Swords, to see the full context: 

One day, Natalia became furious when another child would not hand over his crackers. Others joined in the fight, and Natalia put on a single inline skate to stomp on their hands and kick a few in the head.  

In vivid and visual scenes, Tara writes of volunteering in an orphanage in Costa Rica. But it is more than an orphanage, as children are there due to other circumstances than just the death of both parents:

Some children at the orphanage had been relinquished by parents who couldn’t care for them. Some had been removed from abusive homes. 

While children whose parents have died suffer great loss of course, and need protection along with emotional healing, after the denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance (or whatever stages they go through), there is at least some finality. In other cases there can be a feeling of rejection, and that glimmer of hope that "if only" the parent or parents could do so-and-so, all would be fixed. For some, this can slow or stop the healing. (After watching Volver last night, with its theme of the possibility of a returning parent, either in a physical or metaphysical form, this article was especially resonant.)

While she volunteered thinking the children would be simply in need of and very open to love, Tara found it to be more bleak:

...I had arrived to find tiny, broken people bursting with rage and sadness."

The heart of the story is in two visits from Catalina's mother. The first, Catalina hid away not wanting to see her mother. The second, Catalina's mother had a crisply dressed new baby in tow, Catalina's new brother, but left again without Catalina.

Aside from her good intentions, Tara saw a parallelism and began to fear she was not going to be comforting to any of these children:

I was no different to her than her parents. They had professed to love her as they left her behind, and I, too, would leave her behind in just one week. The volunteers always left.

Tara generously shares the connections in her mind, comparing her weekend escape with the volunteers to glide over the Monteverde Cloud Forest to her new young friend, Catalina's, love of spinning in a swing. Outside the children's home with friends, Tara felt the delirium, but also shame in that carefree joy.

Other volunteers had perhaps easier or less traumatic assignments, or felt them differently. Tara knew that she felt something each day she couldn't make them see:

How I cried the two-mile walk home and then lay despondent in my bunk until I could get myself together and join the others at lunch. 

As Tara left at the end of her last day, she knew there was nothing she had done or would do for Catalina to make it all better:

She had somehow enriched my life, filled my heart—but I would leave the same broken girl in my wake.  

That last image of the volunteer as a boat, and the child as an island being left behind in its departing wake, made motorboat noises in my heart fading away.

I am sure Tara served as a bridge of love more than she knew...for a day, a week, maybe two, for some of the children. But I appreciate her understanding of the complexities of short-term volunteering for long-term needs, and her sharing of her love, loss and grief in two weeks of volunteering on vacation.

If you get a chance, please take the time to read Tara Swords' brief article, An Island in Costa Rica. Feel free to comment here if you'd like. Skateylove, Blake

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