Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The importance of faith in today's society

I woke up one morning with these words running thru my head "the importance of faith in today's society!" It wasn't something I was thinking about at all, (even though faith is monumental in my life) and I forgot about it as soon as I got out of bed.

I just thought about it again, today when I was talking with my youngest sister Vanessa about heeding dreams and following the sings that surround us.

So much as been said about faith; people have talked about it; books have been written on the subject. What more can anyone say about it? Do I want really want to go there? I am not a theologian, nor a philosopher, I haven't even studied religion, what do I really know about faith?

Faith, for me, is the ability to believe in something greater than ourselves.

Is faith important in today's society? I think so!

We are obsessed with having things. Material possessions are equaled with happiness. But then we have stress, depression, phobias, we are where is all the happiness we are supposed to have?

But when you believe there's a plan for your life, you find a certain peace. This is faith.

Faith enables you to see beauty in the little things. A sunset, apples hanging on a branch, a sleeping baby, the smell of clean laundry, freshly baked bread, and yourself; for you are part of something magestic.

Faith is believing that even though there's a lot that's wrong in the world, there's still so much that's beautiful.

Faith is believing that everyone is your brother, that love exists and that we matter.

Faith is important in our society because happiness doesn't come from having things, but knowing we belong!

Friday, October 8, 2010

love story

He had left home when he was 16 and traveled everywhere, anywhere, smoking weed, reading Marx and swimming in his clothes in the Pacific.

She was a hard-working girl, with her weekly visits to the hair-dresser and her love for soft music.

They met, when she was 18 and he was 20. She tought he was a funny guy, he was always making her laugh. He thought she was the prettiest girl in the whole world.

She got pregnant. He told her that he didn’t want to marry (marriage was so institutional), she cried a little.

They ended up getting married (so much for anarchy), and soon they had more children than they knew what to do with them.

They had their share of difficult times—he was impulsive and stubborn; she was emotional and would overly worry about everything.

But then they had their good times, so many of them!

By now they’ve been married for over 30 years, and have an army of children and grandchildren.

She is as hard-working as ever, he still likes to read.

Sometimes when everyone is home and there are too many mouths to feed, she will serve everyone and if there’s not enough to go around, she will go without. Mothers do that—she is a mother! But he won’t let her, he will give her his portion. She will argue that she doesn’t need it. He will put it in her plate. She will pass it back. This will go on for a bit, until they decide to split it in two and share.

They say they love each other like if it was the first day.
—no need to say it, it’s so easy to see!

Monday, September 20, 2010

It's so nice to be alive...

A few years ago I went on a trip to Germany. One morning I woke up, opened the shutters of the hotel room and spread my hands out as if to embrace the whole world and exclaimed
“It’s so nice to be alive in Germany!”
In that very minute I felt like nothing in the whole wide world could compare to the feeling of waking up and being alive in such a wonderful country.

I’ve said that line about a lot of places ever since. But if I had to say which one has been my favorite I would say without a doubt Hungary, and following close behind Poland. Hungary, because it’s home and I’ve been so happy there.

Coming back to Italy has meant leaving behind a whole lot of friends, a work I loved, and million beautiful memories. I made the decision to come back because of family matters. I put aside my own dreams to help my folks and although nobody asked me to give up anything (it was a choice I made all by myself, out of a great sense of duty), I did it with as much hostility I could muster up. I was intent on disliking everything about Italy, if I was going to give up Hungary, I was going to do it with resentment.

I’m not proud of my behavior, considering that I am all for possitive thinking and counting my blessings, but I felt it was my prerogative to be absolutely miserable this time around.

One morning, I was in the kitchen playing with my baby nephew, the television was on and it was the News Channel. They were showing scenes of 9/11–I hadn’t realized the date in the calendar.
It wasn’t a wake up call–not really. Just a timely reminder that after all “IT’S SO NICE TO BE ALIVE” anywhere in the world.

Still I thought I should come up with practical steps that would help me look at the bright side. Here they are:

-Say each day “It’s so nice to be alive in Italy!”
-Keep a one sentence journal describing the best thing that happened that day
-Say hi to everyone (be friendly)
-Experience Italy. Live with passion!

I miss Hungary, I long to go back, but I’m going to make the best of my time in Italy and gradually turn my “iron” world into “gold”…

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Following your heart

I met Aaron coming down on the night train from Budapest to Venice. He came on in Zagreb and took the seat in front of me. I slept on and off almost all the way to Ljubljana, and then Aaron woke me up to tell me I had to show my ticket to the conductor.
From that moment on, even though we were both tired and many people got on the train at the next station, we talked a lot. I found out he was American and he was traveling thru Europe; he told me how much he likes Italy, he spoke Italian better than I did.
We talked about his studies, and what kind of job he expects to get when he gets back home. He told me he was on a journey to discover who he is and, almost by default we started talking about life--what was the point of it all? What are we supposed to achieve? He told me he would like his life to have some meaning.

I told him how my work with the orphans and the homeless, and my years of volunteering has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Things that others strive for in order to be "successful" have never appealed to me. I always thought there had to be more, there had to be a way out, there had to be a door somewhere.

Recently I watched a movie that I like to call "The Movie that Changed My Life". It's the story of a young man, Chris McCandless, who sets out to find his path in life in an unconventional way. He was a bright, clever guy, who had it all going for him; but he wanted more. And he went out to look for it! There are so many people who are discontent with the way the world goes,and yet they never leave their comfort zone to find their life mission. They are born into a pattern they cannot for the life of them break out of. They search for the light and find lightbulbs. They want wind and they have to be content with electric fans. They toil day and night for a life they hate and nothing makes sense.

When we find someone who is brave enough to break free and sets out to discover their path, we should celebrate their courage! Some people say Chris was selfish, eccentric, crazy, arrogant and naive, a fool. I personally think, what he did was fantastic! My sister asked me jokingly if I will go off to the mountains by myself like Chris did. I told her
"It's not about going off to eat wild berries, it's about following your heart!"

One line that stuck with me, which I think it's the most important message of the movie is when Chris scribbles down "happiness only real when shared". As much as I admire Chris' adventure into the wild, (and in no way do I want to minimize his quest), it takes a lot more guts to know the world is screwed-up and face it! I would be "easy" to run off and create a perfect world for ourselves, whereas it takes a lot strength to stay and change the world from within.

Nevertheless Chris' story inspired me! It gives me hope to know there are people out there who are idealistic and want their life to have a meaning, like Chris, and like Aaron. Hopefully we will remember that living for others is the only success worth striving for, the only real source of happiness.

"...and when we love, God's light shines on us!"

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Dávid, Eden and kids...

I spent my last year in Hungary with a wonderful family, who made me feel very loved and as part of their own family.

Dávid is one of the most generous person I've met in my life; he will literally take off his shoes to give it to someone in need. He has a great sense of humor and it's a good listener.

Eden is a top-notch mother and wife. She cooks divinely, and can make a grand meal out of three ingredients and a bit of salt :D Eden is a terrific friend, and was very supportive of all my crazy ideas.

The kids were amazing, each in their own unique way.

I want to take the opportunity to thank them for all the help, love and encouragement they gave me. I spent the best period of my life in Hungary with them; it was magical.

Thank you! I could never thank you enough! I love you so much!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The words we never say...

For all that I am a great advocate of humanity and make a big fuss over people's individual uniqueness--the visit to Auschwitz being my great epiphany on the value of life--lately I had been growing a bit cynical in regards to some people that surround me.

Some of my friends, those closer to my heart, behaved in ways that both hurt and betrayed my trust in them. None of them did it on purpose, and I am sure, part of the misunderstandings were also my fault.
Yet I was so dissillusioned by the turn of events, that I withdrew myself from their company and decided they were not "worthy" of my time and friendship.

Needless to say, the light in my life grew a little bit dimmer; for when we shut the door to leave the world out, part of the beauty of living stays out as well.

During that time I befriended a young musician, and his presence in my life brought back the sunshine, chasing all my shadows away. Perhaps the one significant element of this friendship was the knowledge of its imminent culmination. Every moment together was fleetingly precious--here for an instant, gone in the next interval.

It made me realize, thankfully not to late, that I don't have time to hold a grudge against someone who I think did me wrong. When all is said and done, the things that matter are not who was right or not, not who was to blame. Very much the way a man who has only 3 more months to live, would hardly make an issue of a mere triviality, when time is running out.

So often we leave to the end the words we should say at the beginning. Many times we never get to say them. Too often we think ourselves immortal, and we leave for after, the things that should be done now. But what if there was no after? what if this moment is all we had? what if this is the last time we could say the words we never say? wouldn't we say them? Perhaps even shout them from the rooftops, so that those whom we love will not have the shadow of a doubt that they are important to us!

This happy revelation came to me thanks to the time spent with this wonderful friend of mine, who means the world to me! :)

Because our time on earth is transitory, I want you to know that I love you!

PS: to Nell, KRJ, and Johnny M.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

When we were little

When I went to visit my folks in May, I got a few photos of when we were little that I would like to share with you all

So, here's a visit to Uruguay, 1982. Juan is older than me by a year and three months. I was born in Ecuador, but my parents left a month after I was born. My brother Pablo was also born in Ecuador--and same thing, after a month or so we left again.
We traveled a lot during my first four years: Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Argentina and Uruguay. I don't remember much of that. I remember Brazil because we camped out for a while. I remember quite vividly traveling in the back of a truck in Bolivia, with lots of cholos (refers to people with various amounts of Amerindian racial ancestry) Apparently the train tracks got messed up with a flood, and only a truck could go in that kind of terrain. I remember it was crowed and there were animals--because cholos travel with their animals all over the place. My mom says we kids looked like little refugees, all stained with dust and wet from the rain.

So this is a picture of a Bolivian market place

traditional clothing of cholo women

I don't think I ever learned any word in Quechua, except for thank you: Diuspagarapusunki

Then Sofia was born in Bolivia, and we decided to settle down for a while...between Cochabamba and La Paz, where Marcos was born

When I was 7 we moved to Santiago, Chile and Daniel was born there. Here is a photo of us performing at a school. I'm the one in the pink dress

We stayed in Chile for a year, and then when I was 8 we moved to Uruguay.

Susi was born there, two years later. Uruguay was fun because my grandparents lived there, and we got to experience having grandparents for the first time in our lives.

After Uruguay, we moved to Paraguay. In Paraguay people speak Guarani, this is how you say God bless you: Ñande Yara ta nde rovasá (that's the only thing i know how to say). Actually my mom was born in a part of Argentina where people speak Guarani, but she forgot it when she moved to Buenos Aires. Well, Andy was born in Paraguay. And when he was still a newborn we moved to Argentina. I was 12, and I loved Argentina--the people, the culture, the climate, everything about Argentina was wonderful! But we were there for a year and a half and then we went all the way up to Ecuador. Cristina and Vanessa were born there and it was our home for 5 years.

Juan was with us for a while, but went to Brazil the last year we were in Ecuador.
We then moved to Chile.

In 2001 we moved to Italy. As you can imagine, I have lots of stories to tell, of places and people and what they eat, and the animals, the exotic fruits, and the traditions of each country I've been to. When I was young it was difficult for me to always be traveling. But now I'm quite thankful for the original upbriging I had. And of course my parents are incredible people! I am most thankful for them!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

To Vanessa on her 14th birthday

Vanessa, today is your birthday. There are so many things I want to tell you, but most of all I want you to know that I love you!

It almost seems yesterday that you came into our lives, 14 years ago. You are and have always been a terrific girl! You have determination, you are generous, and you easily welcome people into your life.
You are caring and understanding, and make people feel loved and safe.
You are unselfish--that's a wonderful quality of yours.
I could just go on and on about the traits that you posess, and how incredible you are!

Here's a little list of older-sister advise for you:

1.Life will never be easy, but you must follow your heart.

2.Your dreams are important, don't ignore them.

3.Living for others is a reward in itself--live in such a way that you will make other lives better.

4.Don't be afraid to try new things. It's okay to fail as long as you keep trying.

5.When you get to the end of yourself, that's when God starts.

6.Don't hurry to grow up, life is not a race--enjoy the little things.

7.You might not find your mission in life right away--but the journey is part of the adventure.

8.Mom's prayers work wonders--rely on that power :D

9.Don't be so severe with yourself, learn to take it easy.

10.Don't get frustrated with people because they are slower or faster than you. Everyone is different, appreciate their uniqueness!

11.When all seems lost, love will come to the rescue. Love will be your keeper.

12.You can't chase happiness, but you can create the conditions for happiness to find you.

13.Our hearts are like gardens, we must tend to them.

14.Love is manisfested in the details.

I haven't been around much of your life--you were in your first year of school when I left to start a new life in the service of others. It hasn't been easy giving up being there for you. I know it wasn't easy for you either, to have to say goodbye over and over.
And yet, everything I've done, all the choices I've made in my life have been for all of us. Because I wanted to "pave the way", for you to follow.
I wanted to prove that we can bring light and hope into the world and make a difference--and I've found out we can.
I wouldn't have been able to do anything, without you, my family, backing me up on this. It was you guys who kept the flame alive.
It was your sacrifice and love that made it possible, and you can say "we were all part of it".
Some day it will be you--and I will be there for you, with you, because I believe you will go on to great things! I'm already proud of you!
Happy birthday dear Vanessa! Love you lots! xoxoxo

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

story of a homeless

For my 30th birthday,my little sister Vanessa wrote me an original card listing 30 things she likes about me. Some of the things she put down on that list made me smile--it was interesting to discover myself through the eyes of an thirteen year old girl.

Here are a few of the things she listed:
1: you are always happy
2: you are always helping people.
6: you help me with my English homework
17: you are good with kids
19: you take care of plants
20: you sing for the older people
21: you care about orphans

and next one comes with a story
Number 25th: you have a favorite homeless.

The first day I went to the Magyar-Maltai kitchen for homeless, it was a rainy, cold Friday morning. I was expecting the people that come there to get tea and bread to be poor, but I was not prepared for a culture shock. The sights and smells of drenched clothes, mud, alcohol, dirt and poverty were nauseating.I thought I was going to get sick as I served tea and filled bottles for people who were profusely grateful.

Then I noticed him--he was soaked thru, his hair stood like a pile of hay over his head and his beard was long and unkempt. He didn't thank me or looked at me, he just got his cup and bread and went to sit down with the rest of them. And I continued serving tea.

A week before Christmas, a friend and I went to the threatre to see a violin concert. Someone had given me two tickets and I invited my friend to come with me. We walked to the Threatre Hall and I was telling her about the homeless kitchen and how much I like to help there. I told her that I see the homeless who come over for bread all over the city, but they don't recognize me outside of the kitchen.
The concert was beautiful, we both enjoyed it inmensely! When we came out, it was snowing. We said bye and I took the tram back home alone. The tram was almost empty, I stood by one of the doors, and at the end of the tram there he was standing. He had a thin blue coat, and he carried a pile of newspapers under his arms. He was rubbing his hands as if to warm them. His hands were chapped and full of scabs from the cold.

When I was little I used to get scabs on my hands every winter, because I had would wet my hands and forget to dry them. And my poor hands looked like a little slave's hand all winter long.

I wanted to talk with him, but I thought he wouldn't recognize me and what on earth would I say to someone if I speak only a few words in Hungarian? I ended up not talking with him, but I prayed for him right on the spot. And I continued praying for him every day and whenever I would see him. That's how he became "my homeless"
Whenever he would come around to get bread I would greet him with a smile and say good morning. Then one day he thanked me. The next time he smiled!

Once when Eden came with me, I asked her to ask him if his hands hurt very much. He said they didn't--but I'm sure they did!
I asked Eden later that week if she knew of any hand-lotion I could get for him, and if she thought he might get offended. She suggested to ask in the pharmacy and that she could try to get it.
The next time I saw him, his hair was cut, he was wearing a nice coat, and new shoes. I asked him how he's doing, he smiled and said he was good. And then he disappeared, the weeks passed by, I went for a short trip to Romania, and in all that time he never came around. I still prayed for him, and was hoping to see him, but I didn't, not even out in the street.

In mid-April, I went to the Maltai with a friend. I was helping with the bread and she served the tea. She called me over because someone was asking her something she didn't know about. And there he was, sharp and radiant! At first I didn't recognize him, he looked so different, and he was clean-shaved. He smiled and then I realized who he was! I was so happy to see him, I asked him about his hands, and he held them up for me to see the scabs were gone and they were smooth. He told me he has a job and he is doing good! I was overwhelmed with joy, I almost cried. He waved on the way out and was out the door when I realized I didn't ask him his name.

That same weekend I went to help the Sisters of Charity with their soup-kitchen. He was there, helping too! I finally asked him his name and we talked a little bit as we served and washed plates.

Now, I believe in miracles, I believe in love, I believe in second chances, I believe in wonderful things. I believe prayer changes things, and I believe one can make things better.
But when I first went to help at the Maltai I wasn't expecting miracles. I just wanted to serve, to bring joy, to bring hope, yet fully aware that the world needs more that bandaids and good intentions. I'm not delussional! I know feeding a homeless today will not get him out of the streets. I know teaching an orphan English will not supply his needs for a family. I know that giving someone money will not necessarily solve his problems.
But today I know something else: I know that I met a homeless, who I thought would never be anything but a homeless--and I prayed for him, and I felt his pain, and I believed in him and he rose from the ashes.
Today I know that we can make a difference. Today I believe in miracles, because everyone is a miracle!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Post the Love

It was a typical Thursday evening, I had gone to the orphanage in the afternoon to sing with the girls and had made it home later than usual. Eden and I normally do something together in the evenings, sometimes we talk, we read, she bakes and I clean, or we watch something.

That evening we decided to watch a movie together, we went online and found "Dear John"--and since we hadn't seen it and it had the girl from "Mamma Mia" we took off our shoes, arranged the pillows and soon we were both absorbed in the story. To say we liked it, is an understatement! We loved it! We watched it over and over and went to the cinema to watch it, after we had seen it at least 5 times by then.

We went online to read up on Amanda Seyfried and Channing Tatum--and it was then that we discovered "Post the Love", which is a site created by Channig Tatum, these are his own words:

This is a challenge. A challenge to show someone you love them, scream it to the masses, and pass it on. So join us, and post your love.

"Post the Love" is all about friendship, family, community and free-expression! "Post the Love" is about letting others know that you love them! "Post the Love" is about making the world a better place. Post the love and be part of this wonderful love movement!

"And when we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same." -- Marianne Williamson

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Celebrate life!!!

I have both a brother and a sister who were born in May, like me. It's quite something to have three Tauruses in the family--even when they are as different as we are. We have some personality traits in common: stubborness, being practical, enjoying the good life, to name a few.
Marco is stable, dependable and hard-working. Sofia is ethereal, she's an artist. And I'm the dreamer, the idealist, the missionary.
For my birthday a few of my friends on facebook dedicated me a song each. One of them dedicated "Celebrate Life" from Axel Fernando, an Argentine singer--first time ever I heard that song. I liked so much--the lyrics are fantastic, expresses the choices in life one should make. In turn I want to dedicate this song to Marco and Sofia with all my love and the prayer that this will be a wonderful year for them. That they will enjoy each moment and each experience life will bring along.

I don’t know if I was dreaming,
I don’t know if I was sleeping,
And the voice of an angel
Said to tell you:
Celebrate life.

Think freely,
Help everyone,
And for what you want
Fight and be patient.

Carry a light load
Don’t hold on to anything
Because in this world
Nothing is forever.

Look for a star
To be your guide,
Hurt no one
Spread joy.

Celebrate life, celebrate life,
Because nothing is saved
Everything is shared.
Celebrate life, celebrate life,
Second by second and every day.

If someone betrays you
When they say “I love you,”
Put more wood in the fire
And start over.

Don’t allow your dreams
To fall to the ground
The more you love
The closer the sky is.

Shout against hatred
Against lies,
Because war is death,
And peace is life.

Celebrate life, celebrate life,
Because nothing is saved
Everything is shared.
Celebrate life, celebrate life,
Second by second.

I don’t know if I was dreaming,
I don’t know if I was sleeping,
And the voice of an angel
Said to tell you:
Celebrate life, celebrate life
And leave in the earth your best seed
Celebrate life, celebrate life
Which is much more beautiful when you look at me.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

When all you need is love

I will never forget it--it was my birthday a few years back, and I had come to the end of myself; at the moment it felt I wouldn't be able to make it thru another minute of my life.

Looking back, now that time has healed everything, it seems quite silly--but back then, having my boyfriend tell me he didn't love me anymore, felt like having the whole world come tumbling over and crushing me.
He said that he had been doing some thinking--that he was sorry, but he didn't feel the same way he used to; that he didn't want to hurt me but it was over between us.

I had no idea--I was so sure of his love for me. I thought this was it! This time it was the real thing and we were living the dream of love.

He said we could be friends--but I couldn't because I loved him like I've never loved before and I didn't want to be just friends.
Soon after he told me he was in love with my best friend and he hoped I would be able to help to get them together. He said his feelings for her were so strong, and he knew they were meant to be. And I really don't know how I managed to sit there and have him convince me that I should help him get the girl of his dreams.

Because we worked together, we saw each other and every day was worse that the one before. Not a day would pass by that I wouldn't hide in some corner to cry all my dissappointments away, suffering the pain of loss and rejection.

We were going to go to another city to do a program for children and bring clothes and shoes. We had been planning this trip for a while and we were both part of the team--I would have given anything to be able to back out and not go. But I had to go; so I put my best face, tried to be strong and fake the smiles and the laughter, for the children's sake.
It was right on my birthday--and I just knew that this would be the worse day of my life!

We went to visit a home for handicapped children. All of us stood at the door, as the director showed us into a living room where some kids were sitting waiting for us. The door on the other end opened and some more kids came in, and then from behind a little girl with bangs and sweet brown eyes, came running in. She rushed from the other side of the room, straight into my arms. Instinctively I caught her and swept her up into a hug, as she rested her head on my shoulder.

This little angel, who had never seen me in her life, spotted me out of the crowd and jumped into my arms--to remind me that love is there when you need it the most.

That one little act of love turned what started as a miserable day, into one of the happiest birthdays of my life. There's a song by the Beatles that says
"All you need is love"--how true!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

when Robert Pattinson was in Budapest...

Budapest is a city of choice when it comes to the film industry, one of the reasons for this, according to producer André Szőts is because Budapest "has kept the image of a city that is so diverse in building types from different eras that it could be substituted for (or disguised to be) any large European city", truly it is a beautiful city--the Danube, the old buildings, Buda Castle, Margit Island...

Bel Ami is being filmed in Budapest at this very moment. I know, because Eden went to St. Stephen's Balisica where apparently the wedding scene is being filmed. Eden is an avid fan of Robert Pattinson, as are many girls after the "Twilight phenomenon"--and I have to admit that even I was a bit curious about going to see the set and the actors even if from far away.

But it's a Tuesday--and Tuesdays I go to the orphanage. I was torn between going to see Robert and visiting the orphanage, after all it's not everyday that Robert Pattinson is in town. Well, it took me a little bit to decide, but of course I went to see "my kids" at the orphanage.
We didn't do anything splendind, we played cards, talked, and played hide-and-seek in a room where there is nowhere to hide, but I wouldn't have traded being with "my kids" for anything in this world. I wouldn't trade hearing their laughter, singing with them, having them sit on my lap and try to speak in English, for any big Hollywood star! Because at the end of the day, these kids, "my kids", they are my stars!

When Robert Pattinson was in Budapest...I went to play with the orphans and loved it!

Friday, April 2, 2010

10 days in Germany

I got the opportunity to go to Germany for ten days at the end of March with David--and I had what I like to call "the Bavarian experience" :)

Actually we went to the Frankfurt music fair--first time for me, and we visited all the wonderful people who've been helping our volunteer work for the past years. Each one of them makes our job possible, in various ways--helping with strings for the guitars, picks, cables, mics, drum sticks, guitar pedals, PA systems etc. A big Thank You to all of them!

We want to thank also Jan and Paula, and Christiana for having us in their homes and making our stay so pleasant.

After the Fair, David and I traveled South to Ulm, Ingolstadt, Neuburg a.d Donau (where we visited a children's clinic as clowns), Donauwörth and Erding. Thanks to all the people who helped with meals, hotel rooms, ice-cream and shoes :)
We had a lot of fun, met amazing people who helped towards our work in Hungary and provided for our every need. We enjoyed the weather and the countryside, and the food was excellent!

Thank you so much everyone of you, for your help! God bless till we meet again--hopefully soon!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Little People = Super Stars

Volunteer work is my life--I grew up doing it, hearing about it, meeting people who were volunteers and missionaries; I've been surrounded by people from this line of work ever since the beginning of time.

In Europe I've worked with a few different organizations, C4C in Czech Repubblic, Per un Mondo Migliore in Croatia, CCC in Romania, MMSZ and Szeretet a Válasz here in Hungary, just to name a few.

I recently met the founder of one of the biggest charity foundations in Romania. I had often heard of him and his wife thru' friends and other volunteers, but I hadn't met him personally. The foundation they run is called "Little People" and they have been working in Romania for the past 14 years. They are of course, very successful, and have lots of projects and volunteers, sponsors, big productions, and Katie Rizvi was awarded last year as "Woman of the Year 2009" in Romania. I hope you get to visit their webpage and discover the wonderful work they do.

When I met Shajjad Risvi, I told him of the "humble" work I do in Budapest: my visits to the hospitals, teaching English once a week in the orphanage and helping the homeless alongside the MMSZ. Compared to Shajjad and Katie's asociation, my projects are "low-key" and hardly spectacular. But Shajjad was interested in the projects I am working on and he said

"Wow, that's amazing! You are a superstar!"

and that day I did feel like a superstar! I came home and told Eden about meeting the founder of the "Little People" asociation and how he made me feel wonderful about the work we do.

This is the motto of "Little People:

“Little people” doing “little things” that make a big difference!

How true, it is the little people, who by doing little things turn out to be the superstars! Shajjad and Katie are among the brightest!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

May love be your keeper

I spent a Christmas and the whole winter in Czech Reppublic, a few years ago. Prague was the last place in the world I would have imagined I would end up in. But because life has a way of surprising us, I took a train from Krakow (Poland) to Prague one November morning, and I made my way to an overly-crowded house by the edge of the forest, and stayed there for six months.

The poor house was full to the brim. There were so many of us—and mostly children. This was at the time the center, for the biggest children’s foundation in Czech Reppublic. The folks that lived there were volunteers—and they also had children of their own. I took care of two little boys in the mornings and in the afternoons I taught three teen girls dancing, cooking, and we even tried our hands at sowing (which turn out to be a total disaster) :)

It was in that house that I met Leelu—she was 13 at the time. She was a cute, petite girl, with dark hair and amazing blue eyes. She loved reading, and dancing, and was the kind of girl that would wake up early and go down to the kitchen and wash all the dishes before breakfast, and would be the last one sweeping the floor after a late dinner. It was wonderful to work with her, because you could count on her to be there, even in the midst of chaos and emergencies.

In the summer of 2004, when I was living in Hungary, we had a teenage boy staying with us for a couple of weeks. I was his legal guardian, and he was the first of what I call ’my kids’. Leelu is of course, one of ’my girls’—ever since I first met her.

Leelu went with her family to the Philippine Islands and then back to Czech. And twice she came to visit us in Hungary. Last time she came to stay with us for a few weeks, we discoreved that she was suffering from an eating disorder. This wasn’t a strange girl, off the streets, or in an institution for orphan children—this was Leelu, one of us, one of ’my girls’.
The truth is that I didn’t know how to relate to her, I didn’t know how to help her, and I felt overwhelmed with hopelessness.
Leelu went back home, and she wrote me a few times, but how could I know that all the while she was ’starving’ herself to the point that she had to be admitted in a hospital just a few days after Christmas.
When I first heard of it, thru a friend of mine, I cried and cried. I didn’t know what to do—I was miles away from her, and she was being kept in a ward with no contact with the outside world until she would gain some weight.
It was a hard time for me to know that my Leelu was suffering, and was probably feeling all alone. I wrote my friend Paula with the question ’what should we do?’
’Let’s pray for her!’ was her wise answer

So I did—I focused all my love and positive energy towards Leelu and prayed that she will be strong enough to fight for life—to choose to live!
Last weekend I got a letter from her telling me that she is trying, that it’s very difficult but that she feels our prayers for her.

When Leelu was 13, and we roomed together, we would say ’May love be your keeper’ to each other when saying goodnight.
Those words have never meant so much to me as they do today. If there’s anything that will keep our Leelu safe, is love. Our love, and the Lord’s love overall.
And love can cross oceans and mountains over to where our friends are struggling and help them conquer all. None of us is alone in this world, we can count that the love of our family and friends is there to sustain us when we are not brave and strong enough to face life. Let’s remember to pray for each other, shall we? We could be saving someone’s life!

For Leelu, who is finding herself again: ’May love be your keeper.’

Monday, February 8, 2010

Letter to Jonny

Dear Jonny,
It's been a long time since I haven't heard from you--years in fact. A few days ago I got an email from you with a few photos and a little account of the work you are doing in Mexico with your family. You look radiant but then again, you've always been amazing!

I will never forget how we met, one May afternoon in Italy--it was shortly after my birthday. I was working at the old-folk's home in the neighboring town. I worked shifts and because I was young and usually willing, I worked more than the other nurse assistants, which meant that I didn't get many free days.

A mutual friend called my dad, asking him if he wouldn't mind helping organize a children's show, and because my dad had experience in that line of work he agreed. Three of my younger brothers and sisters would go with him, and my dad asked me if I wanted to come as well. I told him that I was working that particular Sunday and wouldn't be able to accompany him.

But "destiny" wanted things differently. The day before, a colleague of mine begged me to change shifts with her for Sunday, and that meant I had a free day. So I went along to the children's program.
You were there, and at first you were shy--you didn't talk very much, except to my brothers. We all dressed as clowns and painted our faces, and you brought your guitar. It was a hot day and there were tons of children. You played the guitar and we all sang along.

When we were done, we went to the van to change our clothes and take off our wigs and clown props, and we started talking. I told you about my work, my life, my boyfriend and my emptiness and dissolutionment--and you told me about your missionary work in Croatia.
You were 17 but had such passion about your life, the work you did, your goals and the meaning of life. You told me stories, adventures, testimonies and I sat next to you inside the hot van, taking in every word.
Before saying bye, you told me I should come and visit you in Croatia--I said I would.

It's when we least expect it, that something changes our life. I would have never dreamed that I would leave home and venture into a life of volunteer work--but then I met you, and you lit the spark. And I've never been the same ever since.
I came to visit you in August, for a week--and I realized that I wanted a life like yours. I wanted to be part of something greater than myself. I wanted to change the world. And that's how it all began...

You will never really know, Jonny, how much you changed me. But you did! And I am so grateful to you.
God bless you and keep you being a blessing to many! May love be your keeper!

Jonny with children in Mexico

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Avatar vs. giving

I have a wonderful life and I have all that I need. But of course, sometimes there are things that I don't necessarily need but want. I grew up in a large family, and there were times when we had just enough to get by, so we learned at an early age to be economical.
Even now, I know the value of money and I try not to spend my money on things I don't really need. But it's nice to have a little extra to buy a book, or go out to eat, or even go to the cinema every now and then. I don't make a habit out of it, but there are times when I do treat myself with something special.

One Saturday morning, my friend Eden and I woke up early to go help at the homeless kitchen. We parked the car and walked half a block to the place, and on the way there I noticed something on the snow. I picked it up and it was 1000 Huf (less than 5 euros) and I waved it at Eden
"Look, I can finally go watch Avatar" I said and put it in my pocket and hurried to catch up with Eden.
Two days later I was in my room, and Eden came to sit on my bed and told me
"My sister just called me" her sister lives in Szeged, another city in Hungary "and she told me of a family she knows...the father is gone, it's only the grandma, mother, one son and a daughter. The daughter has cancer, that's how my sister met them--at the hospital..." Eden's sister goes to the Cancer Hospital to visit the patients and their families.
"She said that this family is so poor, that they all live in one room, and for a while they had no heating. But my other sister gave them money to fix their heater. Well, it looks like they have little food, and sometimes they can't even go to the hospital because they don't have money to pay the bus ticket."
Eden said "why don't we pray for them? I don't really know what else to do"
"well, I have a little money..." I said, thinking of the money I was saving to go to the cinema to watch Avatar in 3D "it's not much, but it's better than nothing..."

Well I didn't get to go to the cinema, but I am very happy I had that money put aside so that I could help the poor girl and her family. At the end of the day, is the things do we for others that count for a life well spent.

Eden and I at the Magyar-Maltai kitchen by Moszkva Ter

Saturday, January 2, 2010

-20 degrees (Blessed are the meek)

I grew up in South America, in almost every country in the continent. I’ve been in the desert, the plains, the jungle, the mountains, the Pacific and the Atlantic Ocean. In early 2001 I moved to Europe, and I've lived in Italy, Croatia, Hungary, Poland, Czech Reppublic, Spain and visited many other countries in Eastern Europe. I’ve been in hot and cold climates, but last Christmas was the first time I experienced -20 degrees weather.

I moved out from Érd (a town in Hungary), and the little volunteer center that had been my home for the past 3 years, when I got an invitation from a family to come and work with them in the city. I’ve always liked adventure and new things, so it wasn’t difficult to move away and start a new life—although I did miss the friends I left behind, especially since it was Christmas and I wouldn’t be with them this time around.
Danci is one of my best friends—he is as crazy as me, or maybe more. We’ve gone to hospitals together—as part of our Clown Therapy programs, we’ve been together in our summer camps, and in fundraising ventures. He is been a friend, a brother, a mentor and an inspiration in difficult moments. I wanted to give him something special for Christmas—something unique, something meaningful. I finally decided that as my Christmas gift to him, I would go to the market with him.
The way things work for most of the volunteers centers I’ve know, is that it operates thanks to the help of others. Companies, individuals, other associations, goverment and various sources provide all sorts of help towards the volunteer work and thus the job gets done. One bakery donates bread, a milk company 60 liters of milk a month, an egg company in another city donate 12 crates of eggs, etc. We have friends at the market who donate fruits, and vegetables every week—and that’s what I meant by going to the market.
In the summer the market opens at night, from 12 till 8 in the morning. In the winter it opens at dawn, which means we have to get up early around 4 to be there in time.
That morning it was the coldest of my life, -20 degrees and even though I was wearing plenty of clothes, layers in fact, I was still freezing, I couldn’t feel my toes and my hands were stiff. Danci and I walked up and down the rows of trucks, pushing a trolley stacked with crates, and went around collecting the fruits and vegetables.
Farmers are not wealthy, some of them are struggling to make ends meet. Sometimes they can’t help; other times they help with very little, a small crate of carrots, a few cabagges, a bundle of parsley, some potatoes, but a little here and a little there adds up and at the end we have a decent ammount of supplies and we go home.
Because of the weather being so cold, there were less farmers at the market that mornig, and most of them were inside the truck and had only one crate out, so buyers would know what they were selling. I didn’t think we would get much that day, but we still made our rounds. Amazingly enough people gave of their products! One farmer said he was sorry but he didn’t have much to give but if we wanted some half-frozen cabbages we could take them. We thanked him profusely and went to the next person, and right and left people gave and soon we had our crates full.

I recently got a letter from a friend whom I haven’t seen in a long time. In the letter he told me how difficult his life has been lately and how nothing makes sense to him anymore. His finals lines were I have lost my faith in people. Pray for me!
I understand that life is difficult, and sometimes it seems we are fighting an lost cause. The world is not such a pretty place to be in any more—just read the news. It’s easy to lose faith in people, in ourselves, in God, in everything. I know how it feels!
But then when you wake up at the break of dawn, to go to the market with your best friend, and it’s the coldest you’ve every experienced in your life, and farmers—people who don’t have much to begin with, give you whatever little they have, it’s hard for me to say that there is no goodness in people.
I see it all the time, little deeds of kindness being perfomed in random places. Young people that give their seat to older ones in the tram; someone that helps a blind mand to cross the street; a man drops money and goes on his way and someone else runs after him to return it.
Of course the world is hard and cold. But there is good in the world, and there is goodness in people. All we have to do is look for it!

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Matthew 5:5

Resolutions for 2010

At the end of each year I take time to think back on the closing year--the accomplishments, the progress made, the happy times, and to set the goals for the new year.
This is something I've been doing since I can remember. I usually write a list of things I want to learn, places I want to go, projects I want to take on and how to go about them. And although I don't always end up achieving all the goals I intended, for the most part I have been able to keep up with my yearly resolutions.
A few days after Christmas I was thinking about my list--what should my goals be this year. That morning I went out early to help at the homeless shelter and I came back home at lunch time. Ben and Angela were visiting with their four children. Ben and Angela are volunteers in another centre in the outskirts of Budapest, and I've known them for years, but hadn't seen them in a while.
Angela and I sat after lunch in the living-room and talked a bit. She told me how difficult it has been in the few last years, to keep up with the work and take care of the children sometimes all single-handed. Especially when Ben goes out to take care of business and the organization of the centre they work in.
"You know, Alicia, sometimes I don't have anyone to talk to" Angela told me "Ben is wonderful and he helps so much. I don't want to complain. But I wish I had a friend..."
Right away I got my phone and told her to give me her number so I could call her and arrange it to go out for a coffee, or to the park with the kids or just to talk.
They left shortly after, and I went to make dinner. Eden came in the kitchen and I told her about Angela. I said "Isn't it terrible that we take people for granted? It makes me so sad" and of course it's no ones's fault but our own, when we get too busy to take care of people that surrounds us. We forget to be there for each other.

I was planning of writing a long list of things to accomplish in 2010. But I changed my mind--I will have only one thing on my to-do list, and that is to bring sunshine into other peoples lives. In whatever way I can, I will try to lighten their burden, bring laughter, share the load, encourage and comfort, let the light in, create magic.

The prayer of St. Francis goes like this:
Oh Master, that I may not seek to be consoled but to console
Not to be understood but to understand
Not to be loved but rather to love

That is my resolution for 2010.