Dear Milena- a letter to a Costa Rican child

Milena+sits+on+my+shoulders+on+the+last+day+at+the+school%2C+right+before+we+said+goodbye.

Used with permission from Abbey Ingram

Milena sits on my shoulders on the last day at the school, right before we said goodbye.

Dear Milena,

 

It’s been a little over a month since I had to say goodbye to you.

Standing in the El Manantial confused me. The school was a sanctuary that lays in the middle of a sin-ridden city. Its existence was an oxymoron that made me question how I perceived my life and how I wanted to live my life.

Heading to Costa Rica, I could have never guessed what true poverty would look like.

Broken down shacks leaned up against another broken down shack made me appreciate every fabric of my life. While I may never know the struggle of living in such a home, you have to go home to that situation every day of your life. That’s a hard pill to swallow.

Costa Rica had its bright points. Downtown San Jose revealed the efforts by the people to create a completely safe and prosperous country. But the change from an Americanized city to a poverty-ridden city was only feet away. Unlike America, the poverty isn’t hidden; the poverty hits you right in the face.

This was never more apparent than when we came to work at your school for the first time. Driving from our four-star hotel to where you live placed a lump in my throat. I was nervous for the twenty step walk from our bus to the school because of how rough of an area surrounded us.

As soon as we walked through the gates, I felt reassured. It was such a simple beauty. The playground that sat ten steps away from the entrance glowed with vibrant colors and made the green grass even greener. A few stray students were wandering around and their faces lit up when they saw us.

Walking into your classroom for the first time was both heartbreaking and heart-filling. Seeing all of your little faces in a safe place restored my faith, but seeing all of your little faces and knowing you had more than a ten step walk that never led to safety made me question fairness.

The most prominent memory from the first day was in the courtyard. You led the charge of students climbing and attacking me. I have never met a more contagious smile than yours as you shouted “Caballero” while on top of my shoulders. Those small moments with you fill my brain and I constantly recall them while draining away in school.

One of the most heart-wrenching moments of the trip was walking into the classroom on the second and third day and not seeing you there. Why weren’t you at school? Were you safe? These questions stabbed at my heart as I prayed for you to come back for the final day.

On that final day, I was so nervous. If you weren’t there, the trip would not be the same. But your little legs carried you towards me as you wrapped your arms around my legs. You looked up at me and smiled and I smiled right back.

It is impossible to forget that moment. Love was translated without words. Love was communicated through mutual smiles. Love proved that it could give hope and give these impoverished kids a chance to break that damned poverty cycle that weighs on them like rusted chains.

El Manantial is the embodiment of love that lays in the middle of a place that is the antithesis. That school and the students within it taught me what it truly means to love. I can’t wait to forever be a part of your life because you will always be part of mine.

 

Sincerely,

Cameron