I didn’t know that the last time I went up to the communities was my actual last time. For those of you who know me, you are probably nodding, thinking Good; it’s better that way. You would be a mess. This is true, but I still get that burning feeling in my nose when I think about not going up for “one last time” or making sure I squeezed those little shoulders extra hard or let the children know I think they are intelligent and beautiful, and they have changed me and thank you.
I was going up for Mother’s Group/Talleres, and we were bringing a method of dying cloth for more colors, colors that made the mothers gasp and slip the leftover examples in the blankets wrapped around their backs. Talleres is inspirational to be a part of. These mothers face the hardships of a third-world country: poverty when trying to provide for many children, alcoholism, domestic violence, hard work in the fields, and, quite simply, one of the most selfless existences I have witnessed. Here, they sit at tables and laugh and stare in awe at the crafts they are going to learn to make, learning to speak up for themselves about who should lead the groups or which colors they want or how important it is to attend the sessions. They listen to Jane, replying with “Si, amiga Jane” in between glances towards her and down at their busy, rapid hands that are creating something beautiful: a scarf, a painting, a hat, a wall hanging—a means to an income, a Christmas, a health campaign, pride.
The children run in and out of the room, telling their mothers through tears who did what or chasing the dogs or creating games on the grass outside with each other. I have to remind myself to stick with the mothers instead of running with the kids, who pull on your hands and ask you to play a game with them. To hear the giggles over the mother’s Quechua chatter and to have your eyes catch on the colors and slight details fills your senses with an inner joy.
As we walked through the hills to Quilla Huata before Talleres started, the sun shone and there seemed to be glitter strewn on the swaying, tall grass. On the adjacent hill, I looked up to see the silhouettes of five children greeting us, with the sun at their backs and the wind in their hair. As we waved back, they began running, allowing the downward hill to pull them towards us as they yelled their welcomes. My heart doesn’t always know how to handle those situations.
The littlest girl fell easily behind the others, and I waited for her. She took my hand in hers and took the lead going into the village, pointing out her house and her family’s cow. I held on tight, swinging our arms in the glistening sun and listened to her stories.
I have spent four months here, leading volunteers or lessons or chimney-building endeavors. I have learned a lot about how leading with education and ideas is the only gentle leading that is self-sustainable in a community that has goals and with an organization that is there to assist, not give hand-outs.
And to feel my time in those hills ticking as I walked through with the dirty, tiny hand in mine, through a place where I have been lost in time but stuck in an ideal of helping lead a community to work towards lives they desire, to follow the little black braid and timid smile, I was simply happy to be led.