Re-validation for volunteers: making a movie, rehydrating and going home

06-09-2014 13:08

Tuesday night, 2:30 - I sit on the toilet with my head in a plastic bag and in between two contractions of my digestive system I wonder why my stomach doesn’t stop pumping in the wrong direction: there hasn´t been anything to evacuate for quite a while now. After a few hours with my virus friends the estimated output is five liters, input zero. An evident cause of a headache that is. And muscle pain. The remedy seems to be logical: drinking water and taking painkillers… but if every sip of water with or without paracetamol is immediately expulsed in triplicate, the vicious circle is round. Add to all that misery something that one of my favorite professors described as “the combination of all possible physical and psychological symptoms before or during the menstruation”, and I (who´s never ill) don´t know what to do with myself anymore.

After another five hours more of hanging around inseparable from my plastic bag, I wonder how it´s possible that not every single virus particle has been dragged along with the seven liters of estimated output by now. But my basic body functions (drinking, sleeping, eating) come back surprisingly slow. My solitary confinement lasts for five days more and that´s when my patience ends: not entirely sure if my wobbly legs will make it up the hill to CENIT, I go back to work on Monday. I´ll make it an admin day. Or half an admin day, most probably.

It´s my first day at work after two months of strategic plan meetings, three weeks on the coast and one virus week, and I feel like I´ve lost touch with CENIT and what it´s all about: the work with the people from the markets. I need to reconnect. Being in the office works out pretty well (stomach-wise) until about one o´clock, although every now and then someone comes in to check on me. When I step into sister Ofelia´s office, she says something like: “Are you ok, Nelly? I don´t think so. Don´t move, I´ll get you something that will help you rehydrate.” Sure, whatever. Rehydrate and go home.

But while hermana Ofelia is getting her magical drink, Cristina appears: “Hey, there´s a visitor at the door and we need someone who speaks English.” Ok, speak English, rehydrate and go home. “Hi, I´m Tom, I´m a movie editor and in my free time I travel and make videos about organizations like this. So… I wanted to make a video here too.” Right. I´m Nelly. Rehydrate and go home. “Eeeerm, to be honest,” I start hesitantly, “I don´t know who you should talk to about that or who should be in that video.” His enthusiasm must have affected his judgment, because he says: “Well, it could be you!” Yeah. That´s just what I was waiting for. Making a video, rehydrating and going home. Maybe we should go and look for a non-dehydrated volunteer that gets excited by the idea of being the girl in the movie. Not me, I´m sure that that´s better for everybody.

While I wonder who can help me, hermana Ofelia comes back with a bottle of orange children´s rehydration with apple flavor. I introduce her to our visitor, hoping that she knows who he can talk to. “To you, Nelly, claro! You know CENIT and the people, and you speak English. You should do the tour with him!” Ya. For a moment I consider trying to convince her that in the state I´m in, I´m not exactly a great billboard for this dynamic and energetic organization. But I also know that there isn´t really anybody else to do it at this moment. Come on, Nelly! If someone wants to spend his free time and energy making a CENIT promotion video, a little more enthusiasm would be well appropriate. I take two deep breaths, I take over the bottle of Pedialyte from hermana Ofelia and I tip the man with the camera. “Alright, come on, I´ll show you around!”

We walk practically the same round as we did nine months ago as new volunteers, but this time I explain everything that I couldn´t remember back then. We walk passed the reception and the chapel (“it´s a religious organization, but it´s open to everyone who cares, even atheists like me”) to the social work office (“Ruth´s a hero!”), and I point at the library, the psychology office and the bags and cards production workshops. We cross the playground to the clinic, the kitchen and the lunch room, and I explain that nutrition is an essential part of the programs here, because most of the children don´t eat well and that prevents them from developing and growing up normally. Upstairs, there´s the activity room where we do workshops with the parents, and the storage of sports equipment for physical education classes and the football club.

And through the eye of the camera I see a summary of everything I´ve learned since that moment in August, when I followed the volunteer coordinator through the labyrinth of corridors and projects, just as disoriented as the man with the camera appears to be. An interesting tour indeed: rediscover your daily life through a stranger´s eyes.

Afterwards we do an interview about everything CENIT does and why. Before we finish, he asks: “What is it like to be a volunteer here? Would you recommend it?” Ah. I think about the last months of marathon methodology meetings, extra extra hours of administration, the how-do-I-survive-Quito strategies and the past week I spent with my plastic bag. What it´s like? Honestly? Well…

I´d highly recommend it.

Because this is a group of brilliant people, incredibly dedicated to the work they do with the families from the markets. And with our knowledge, experience and time we can truly make a difference here, even if it´s small. We receive twice what we give by what we learn from the children and the families, from our colleagues and from ourselves. Every time a four year old shows us a drawing and every time we get lost in their stories and our impotence. Every time we hug a kid that just peed his pants and when the families give us fruits when we pass by. Every time we wonder if it´s all worth it. And every time we come to the conclusion that it is. Every time we (finally) get someone to school or to a doctor, and when we spend five days with a plastic bag on the toilet, due to something that wasn´t supposed to be in our food or drinks. Highly recommendable.

Especially if at that very moment, someone who wants to make a video about what you do and why knocks on your door and makes you realize again what you´re doing and why.

Thanks Thomas from the Conscious Action Network (CAN),

I´m back…

Now I only need to rehydrate and go home :P.

See you tomorrow!