Tears and Laughter
Fanny shares with us her experience as a volunteer at NPH Mexico. While it wasn't what she initially applied for, she came to love and treasure her time as the female youth group coordinator.
June 28, 2018 - Mexico
To be honest, when I was told prior to accepting a position with NPH that my volunteer position would change to Chicas Poderosas coordinator, I was about to decline. Since I originally filled out the application to be volunteer in NPH Mexico, my volunteer position had changed twice.
From the beginning, I knew I wanted a position in the high school home – I was sure of that – but I had originally planned on having a different office job with NPH Mexico. Despite the changes, I decided to try it out.
I remember that the first few weeks at Casa Buen Señor, where all of the high schoolers live, were rough. The volunteer coordinator brought me to my new home along with my luggage, introduced me to my office coworkers and staff, and showed me my apartment. I was left as just one volunteer with the 135 high schoolers in that home. That evening, I unpacked for a couple of hours and then I went down to the cafeteria for dinner, where the house director introduced me to the kids for the first time. To be honest, I was very nervous when I entered the cafeteria: I was shaking with fear, worried about everyone looking at me and wondering who I was and what I was doing there.
The first few weeks felt never-ending. My work day began at 8:30 a.m. at NPH Mexico’s office, where I planned the topics for my Chicas Poderosas sessions… friendship, self-esteem, relationships, dating, education, future goals, etc. I did not know the high school girls very well, and I remember that the initial sessions were a bit chaotic, so much that I finished our meetings without a voice from talking so much. I was not exactly sure how to begin or how to interact with the girls.
Regardless, as the weeks and months went by, I was able to find a way to interact with them and they found a way to interact with me as well—that’s how I was able to develop my own philosophy and rules for the Chicas Poderosas program.
The Chicas Poderosas program focuses on women’s empowerment. It meets once a week during activities hour, from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., to discuss various topics related to women in society today. Chicas Poderosas is a space free of judgment, a space to share doubts or concerns, a space for the girls to interact and form a strong bond of friendship and support for each other.
I began the sessions on Mondays with first-year high school girls (28 girls, since it is mandatory during their first semester), then on Tuesdays with second-year high school girls (about 12 girls, since it becomes optional following their first semester).
During the first sessions, I organized and planned the topics in a very academic manner, with PowerPoint presentations, discussion questions, and journal time. I noticed, however, that the girls were not amused with this method, since it reminded them much of their high school classes. After coming to this realization, I began to change the presentation method. I started the session with icebreakers, played videos, and brought candy to motivate them during the games. But most importantly, I shared my story with them. I told them about my life as the daughter of Mexican immigrants living in the United States and I explained how hard my parents had to work and what sacrifices they had to make in a new country. I also described all the effort and cost it took for me to go and pay for college. Before listening to my story, several girls had a misconception of me. Since I come from the United States, the assumption was that I came from an affluent family.
However, during a session where we discussed the importance of education and one’s future, I showed them pictures of my childhood, I shared with them how my father immigrated to the United States for the first time, and I explained to them about the racism and machismo that exists in my city. What I wanted to convey was a simple message— life is not easy for anyone, everything has costs in life, sometimes we have advantages in life and sometimes we have disadvantages that we have to face. No matter what situation we find ourselves in, the most important thing is not to lose ourselves in the abyss of conformity or simply let ourselves be carried away by what comes into our lives.
I introduced various topics related to self-esteem so that the teenage girls could gain more self-confidence. I invited a psychologist, who is a yoga and meditation instructor, to introduce topics on trust, and therefore obtain strength and courage to excel in life. During these sessions, several girls shared that in their villages, women must marry and stay at home caring for the family.
Despite the ideologies that several girls brought along from home, I always explained to them that these ways of thinking are old and incoherent, because men and women today deserve the same rights. Enough is enough, it is time for women to wake up and fight for gender equality. Conveying these messages became my goal for the Chicas Poderosas program. I wanted the girls to eradicate old ideologies and traditions they brought with them from home and instead promote the importance of education so they could achieve a stable and satisfying life.
Through videos, icebreakers, conversations, journal time, special guests, field trips to museums, and celebrations, I managed to help high school girls open their eyes and analyze the problems of machismo in our society. During a session on violence against women, the girls were shocked and angry when I showed they saw a video related to domestic violence, and read facts about how often it occurs.
When we played ice-breaker games, I saw them laughing with their teammates as they tried to make their team win. There were times when the girls wanted to continue to watch a video or play a game until dinner time, despite our time slot ending at 7:30 p.m., because they were completely entertained. I read their journals after our sessions, and there were times when I became emotional and teary while reading their goals and dreams. I was proud.
It was during these moments when I discovered my purpose at NPH Mexico. It was during Chicas Poderosas that the high school girls also discovered their purpose in life. Life is difficult, life surprises us and turns us around, and we do not always achieve what we want. I would relay a similar message to the girls: we have to fight, sometimes, but during these fights is when opportunities show up.
I have the satisfaction of knowing that I made the girls think outside the box, I made them differentiate between their traditional ideologies and modern ideologies in regards to women in society, but above all, I made them think about their futures. With that, I hope that in two, five, or ten years, even when they are finishing college, they think back to the discussions we had in Chicas Poderosas and hopefully that helps them make good decisions in life.
I did not come to NPH Mexico to transform the children, much less to change the world. In fact, there were several times after long and exhausting days in which I asked myself what I was doing here as a volunteer. It was during these moments, when I had to remind myself that these were teenagers, they had bad days and they were not always in a good mood.
However, there were other days when I was walking around the house and I heard, "Fanny, come over here!” or they just came over to cover my eyes so I could guess who they were. I turned to see who it was and I had a pair of eyes looking at me with a huge smile. These were the moments that reminded me why I was really here. There were times when the kids were not always laughing and smiling, but I can assure you that wasn't always the case; there were evening talks in the patio area, joking around with each other, or playing the guitar and singing with the music group. There were days when we would laugh out loud until our stomachs hurt. There were days when I almost cried while one of the boys told me his personal story. There were days when I had to remind the girls to pay attention during our Chicas Poderosas session.
There were days when I returned home disappointed because one of the kids had failed several subjects and was at risk of failing the school year. There were days when I was extremely proud and happy because while practicing English, one of the kids really tried to have a fluent conversation. There were Independence Day celebrations with dances, Mexican flags and mariachi music. There were altars for the Day of the Dead with pan dulce (sweet bread), sugar skulls, and colorful Mexican decorations.
There were Christmas carols, a manger, and fireworks. But above all, there was laughter, tears, hugs, smiles, and lots of love. You fall in love with the children, that's for sure. That is NPH. That, is NPH Mexico.
Volunteer as Chicas Poderosas Coordinator