Laura McJilton travelled to Cochabamba last summer for her bar exam trip to volunteer and study Spanish. The Maryknoll Institute there put her in touch with Emma Rojas, Salomon Klein’s director. Lauravolunteered in the infant room from mid-August through September. She said it was one of the most personally impactful things she has ever done. “Although with my current job it may be some time before I can make it back to be physically present in Cochabamba, I will always carry the children in my heart.” Here are Laura’s personal reflections on her experience at Salomon Klein.
“Out of the fires of desperation burn hope and solidarity.” ~Sharon Burrow.
This post was a long time in coming. In part it was because Cochabamba itself is difficult to process and in part it was because in the hustle and bustle of life Boston finding space to process is difficult. As I sit here tonight, as we approach the darkest day of the year, gale winds and driving rain lash at the windows. And yet I am safe, and dry, and warm, both physically and metaphorically. And I think with some amazement that it should be so.
The first day I arrived in Cochabamba I saw a small girl, maybe 5 years old, standing in the center of a busy street, hand outstretched. She became a common sight, and although I couldn’t speak her language, I found the language of ice cream universal. My first day of class I asked about her and was told the story of the Quechua, how for many years they were denied voting, property, and education. I was told how they struggle in poverty with little opportunity for education and advancement. And so they beg, and their children beg, and sometimes they leave their children in places where they know they will be found.
Perhaps this was the story of newly arrived baby John, named for saint under whose statue he was found. It’s almost certainly true for several children who arrived while I was volunteering. The fastest way to calm them was to wear them in a blanket on your back, as is the indigenous way. But although their past is shrouded in darkness, their future glows with the collective fires of those who stand in solidarity with him – the volunteers that come and hold him, those who give gifts to children in places they may never see, the staff who work tirelessly for what a nonprofit can afford, to the nun whose daily entrance makes the children radiate joy on her arrival, and to Emma, the director, who lit the torch long ago from the embers of her own heart and carries it faithfully.
As the Advent season approaches, the children will be sheltered from a dark world by arms of grace and a nativity play. And although it is summer there, perhaps they will sing with us about Orien, the Morning Star, the Rising Sun. The fire that burns in hope and solidarity through the darkest day, as it always has. A reflection of a cold manager, a dark night, and light incarnate come to bring hope to those with none.