By Kimmie Fink, NPH USA International Volunteer Program
Who knew cornflakes could make you cry? Upon my return from my year as a volunteer teacher at El Rancho Santa Fe (Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos’ home for orphaned and abandoned children in Honduras), I remember visiting my hometown grocery store and feeling completely overwhelmed. The sheer number of choices on the shelf left me in tears. I gained more than I gave as a volunteer, becoming enriched in friendships I still hold dear and learning about myself, but what I value most is what volunteering taught me about humility and gratitude.
When I left for the Ranch, I’d been teaching for seven years. Already National Board Certified and Teacher of the Year, I was a bigshot teacher and figured I had this year in the bag. When my supervisor in the Montessori school shared that the previous coordinator had not wanted me to come because I was a “know-it-all,” I was horrified. In that moment, I decided that I couldn’t let my pride be an issue. I jumped in willingly to all my teaching duties, including sweeping and mopping the floor, distributing watermelon for snack, and checking heads for nits. When I got back to teaching in the U.S., I swore I would never again utter the words, “That’s not my job.”
The part of my role I enjoyed most was being a mentor to the teenage girls. I spend my evenings and every other weekend in hogar, getting my hair braided, helping with homework, and just listening. After spending the night there, I contracted lice. I was embarrassed, but I was soon overcome by the kindness my girls showed me. They washed my hair with special shampoo, dried it with their towels, and combed it with their brushes. It was an incredibly humbling experience, and it gave me a great deal of perspective about how other people live, and the dignity with which all people deserve to be treated.
Spending a year in Honduras certainly made me a better teacher, but perhaps more important, it’s made me a better parent. When you volunteer for NPH, you learn to live simply. I used one plate the entire year, and I could delight my girls with a new bar of soap for each of them. I worry that children in this country are over-stimulated and even entitled. As I raise my daughter, who turns 2 next month, I want her to appreciate what she has. I hope she’ll grow up to be like my friend’s 8-year-old, who on her birthday, asked for bags of cat and dog food to be donated to the local animal shelter. We’re a military family, and we hope that our travels take us abroad so that our daughter can learn from diverse experiences and perspectives.
Volunteering abroad also made me confront the privileges bestowed upon me as a citizen of the United States. I have a passport that can take me anywhere. A Honduran friend struggled to get a visa even though he’d been accepted to a college program here. I have reliable access to emergency services. The year I served, a young pequeña died on the way to the hospital in Tegucigalpa. I am relatively safe walking around the streets of my city. Friends of mine have been assaulted and mugged in the streets of the capital. There’s nothing quite like coming home to make you realize how good you have it.
I am thankful for the life with which I’ve been blessed, but I don’t think gratitude is enough. I would argue that it is with privilege (as well as power) that comes great responsibility. It’s why I’ve continued to be involved with NPH. I’ve helped at fundraisers and galas, organized a read-in at my school to benefit the kids of NPH, and now I serve on the Diversity Task Force, which seeks to recruit and support volunteers of color. I am in regular contact with my five godchildren. As a family, we have more than enough, and so we give.
If volunteering taught me anything, it’s how very lucky I am. I’m perhaps most fortunate in that I had the opportunity to be a volunteer. I held the hand of an injured child at the clinic. I made bread for 500 people. I sang Little Mermaid songs as I tucked a toddler in bed. Each moment was a gift, and I carry those gifts with me — from the classroom to the nursery and yes, even to the grocery store.
To learn more about service opportunities through NPH USA, please click here.