By Izzy Mendiola, Regular Contributor
About two years ago I traveled to Nicaragua with a group of students from my high school to volunteer with teenage girls living in an orphanage. My friends and I think about this trip often. We laugh about the extra large gelatos we each accidentally ordered and then ate every bite of, the times we woke up to what sounded like cats fighting in our ceiling, and the day we rode a dinghy boat across the only freshwater lake in the world with sharks and got stranded in a thunderstorm. But I also struggled on this trip. I wondered if, despite the good times I had, we achieved our main goal for our trip: helping the girls at the orphanage.
One girl from the orphanage who stands out in my memory is Jasmina, a twelve-year-old girl with short, dark curls. I remember nervously stumbling over my words on the first day I met her, asking her if she needed help with her homework. “¿Quieres ayuda?” She rolled her eyes and laughed. I awkwardly giggled. Was she laughing with me or at me? Embarrassed and confused, I explained to her that I wasn’t very good at Spanish. She snickered again and simply said, “Yo sé,” meaning “I know.” Oookay, so she was definitely laughing at me. In this moment, I felt like more of a nuisance than a help to these girls.
For the next few days Jasmina and my “conversations” remained the same: I asked her general questions about herself, and she responded with an eye roll or a shrug. But, one day, when I overly enthusiastically asked Jasmina if she needed help for probably the 256th time, instead of moving her head from side to side, her dark curls bounced up and down as she indicated that she indeed wanted help. YES! Finally!
I remember my stomach sinking as I stared at her addition problems scribbled in smeared graphite: uhhh. My mind was blank. In my countless hours spent flipping through Spanish vocabulary flashcards, I couldn’t recall one time I had ever heard a math-related phrase in Spanish. I hesitantly pointed to an addition sign on her paper and asked, “¿adición?” She nodded in response. We slowly completed one problem on the page, but that’s the only math I ever did with her.
The rest of our time together, we drew stick figures and flowers. I thought of the hours I spent trying to talk to Jasmina, but when she finally wanted my help, we spent our time drawing instead of doing something “productive,” like math.
On my last day in Nicaragua, my classmates and I gathered with the Nicaraguan girls in the orphanage courtyard to say our goodbyes. Jasmina’s dark eyelashes clumped from the tears that were pooling in her eyes. I realized that drawing with her rather than doing her math homework was not a waste at all.
I hadn’t changed the rate of poverty in Nicaragua or even directly helped one of these girls rise out of their personal situations. Jasmina definitely did not seem to have a newfound love for math. But, I may have helped her feel cared for by simply persisting in getting to know her, even when she seemed to have zero desire to get to know me.
By getting to know Jasmina, I learned that even the simplest acts of compassion and patience can make a difference despite linguistic, cultural, and economic barriers. So next time you are hesitant about whether or not an act of compassion will help someone, I encourage you to go for it! Chances are, it will.
Share with us! When have you ever been given or have given compassion? How did it make you feel? Tell us about it here!
Izzy calls Austin, Texas her home, and is currently studying psychology at Boston College. She is a froyo enthusiast, a shameless lover of country music, and enjoys long runs way more than is normal. She loves the mission of I AM THAT GIRL and is so excited to be part of the IATG community!
Image via anitalaydonmillersmiddlegradeblog.blogspot.com/