Our Visit with Melany
A few weeks ago, Ward and I traveled to Cartagena, Colombia to meet Melany. We spent a fantastic day together! Our interpreter/escort and driver from Children International picked us up at our hotel first thing in the morning and took us to the community center, where Melany and her mom were waiting for us.
Melany was reserved when we first walked in, but then gave each of us a big hug. Her mom, Carlina, also greeted us with hugs. Melany made us a beautiful welcome sign, which we brought home with us to have framed. We all sat down to talk for a few minutes, and so that Melany could go through her gift bag. Carlina loved the 8x10 collage that we had made for her of Melany’s CI pictures! Melany seemed very embarrassed by her childhood pictures, but the rest of us loved them. She seemed very happy with her gift bag overall.
Afterwards, we were given a tour of the community center and an explanation of the organization's overall goal of helping kids break the cycle of poverty, as well as the specific ways they try to achieve that goal. CI uses fun activities as a hook to get the kids to the centers, but their main focus is on life skills: managing emotions, showing empathy for others, communicating in appropriate ways, etc. CI also tries to make sure the kids are given a warm, friendly and interesting place to be at the center.
We were able to see the medical facilities available in the center, starting with the dentist’s office. (Which was unfortunate for the little boy finishing up his appointment while we all went traipsing through… but very interesting to see!) The community center also has its own pharmacy, where basic prescriptions can be dispensed. We also saw the library, the computer room, a kitchen where cooking and baking classes are held, and the music room.
After the tour, we all got into the car to head to the mall. It was a bit cramped, since there were 6 of us and the car barely held 5 people. Luckily, it was a short trip!
At the mall, we headed for a big box store. Melany started out looking at clothes. She went to look at a table with the jeans and t-shirts, where Ward found a shirt that said “Who runs the world? Girls!” Melany added it to her purchases, but didn’t know what it said. When our interpreter told her what it meant in Spanish, Melany absolutely lit up!
After we left the store, we walked for a minute in the mall and stopped to talk about what to do next. Ward noticed that we had stopped in front of a bookstore. We know that Melany loves to read, and she was very excited when we asked if she wanted to choose some books. She chose two and said that she was done, but after conferring with Ward, we told her she could get a few more. I wish we had had a camera pointed at Melany when she heard that! I’m not sure there’s really anything more fun than taking a CI kid who loves books to the bookstore – she looked like she had just won the lottery. She chose two more books, and we checked out.
From there, we went up to the food court and found some tables outside in the shade. We sat and talked for a while until we were ready to eat. I went through a photo album we had given her and ‘introduced’ her to our families and some of the other pictures in there. Ward asked her about her favorite movies (White Chicks and The Notebook) and music (love songs). He also asked what her favorite food is – her response was “fast food”, and more specifically, ‘pizza’.
After lunch, we took Melany and Carlina home. We were given a tour of their house, which includes an area where Carlina does her work as a seamstress and dressmaker. We met several other family members, including Melany's niece. Then it was time for final hugs and a tearful farewell. Melany will graduate from CI's program later this year, but I am very hopeful that we will stay in touch and see her again in the future.