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The Orphan and the Bananas
Proyecto de Vida

by Colette Morya

Proyecto de Vida (Life Project) is an orphanage in Ezequiel Montes, a little town in the State of Querétaro, far away from everything.

I first visited Proyecto de Vida along with my friend Lalo, accepting the invitation without knowing much of anything about the place. I always enjoy following the signs that the Universe is giving me, wondering what will I learn today?

Lalo was part of a group of students who were going. We were all bringing donations: cleaning supplies, clothes, school supplies... Lalo and I decided that our donation would be fruit; part of a balanced diet, right?

I took in the scenery on the ride there. It really was far away. We even got a little lost. Surveying the plain and mountains, I enjoyed the immensity of nature in silence. What beauty. At the end of a dirt road, we reach the place.

Sister Flor de María welcomed us with her sweet smile. She and the other nuns that oversee the orphanage are from South and Central America, part of the Carmelite order. Seeing them all so full of peace and so selfless made me feel like I was drowning in the emptiness of my existence.

In 2008, these members of the Hermitage of Villa Progreso, and a group of friends worried about the needs and problems of the community, decided to take action to help. First, they had to make a difficult decision, whether to help the adults or the children. They decided on the children: "The future of the world depends on the new generations. It is important to provide them with a good education. That's why we're here."

In 2009 the property was donated for that purpose by one of the town's inhabitants. They started with seven boys, all of whom had been abandoned or were living in families that were toxic to their growth.

Observing that the boys frequently asked about their sisters, and understanding that it would be best for families to be kept together, another building was built to receive the girls.

At first, when we arrived that day, the children shyly kept their distance. Some continued to play, others hid from our eyes. We were invited to place our donations on a huge table that seemed to be already anxiously awaiting our gifts.


Sister Flor de María and the author
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"We currently have 18 boys and girls. The youngest is five and the oldest is 16," Flor de María told us, pointing to the youngest child. She told us his name, which we will change to José. She said he was the child who had the least time in the orphanage. She said that José's father was in jail and that his alcoholic mother is unable to take care of him. "He doesn't have any other siblings. He is very lonely."

I began to pay particular attention to José. I imagined that I could understand his isolation. It was as if I were seeing myself in a mirror. I moved away from the group a bit, so I could comfortably sink into my thoughts.

José, feeling my gaze, started looking my way. Having noticed that it was I who had brought the bananas, he shyly approached me and asked: "Can I have a banana?" brightening my day with his question. "Of course!" I nearly shouted.

José ran to the big table and, with great fervor, grabbed a banana. I watched as he just as eagerly devoured it, with such hunger for love, with such penury of soul; imagine not having a lousy banana.

At that moment, I reflected on the superficiality of my existence. I observed the privileges that I have and don't value. I witnessed my ingratitude towards life in a way I had never witnessed it before. How many times have I just mechanically eaten a banana and not even enjoyed it.

José finished his banana and surreptitiously grabbed another one, devouring it in the same way. After a while, he snuck another. Nobody but I seemed to notice. After this overdose of bananas, José began again to play, I thought, a little more happily.

After another while, in the midst of his joy, José approached me and spontaneously gave me a hug. I returned the hug, being in need of it myself. That moment left a redeeming mark on my heart.

I kissed his forehead and, before I got sentimental, picked him up and started to tickle him, twisting his body in my arms. He managed to escape from me, squealing with laughter. I ended up chasing him all over the yard. Other kids joined in the game. I tossed a succession of them into the air, catching each one in my arms. They all wanted to fly! After a short while of this, I had to stop and catch my breath.

Sister Flor María saved me by announcing it was time for lunch. I devoured my lunch: pasta, beans, rice, lemon water and no dessert, making faces at the banana boy, who was sitting at the table in front of me, laughing at my antics.

In the end, my best reward that day was José's goodbye. He came up to me at the exit to give me another hug, asking, "When will you come back?" "Soon, and I'm going to bring more bananas," I told him with a wink. He smiled and went off, jumping for joy. It was not so simple for me to be happy. With my heart knotted, I asked myself, "What can I do for these children?"

I went back to the orphanage on my own during the pandemic, only to find that, for the safety of the children, the government was not allowing them to receive visitors. I left my donation at the gate, handing over a large bunch of bananas to Sister Flor de María.


The author and Sister Flor de María
*

More recently, I spoke directly with the coordinator, Albertina Gonzales. She told me that the pandemic had lessened their support. She itemized their needs, including more computers to continue studying online, resources to provide music and art classes to children, support to build a greenhouse so that they could teach the children to grow their own food, chickens and a coop, a rainwater capture system...

I raised chickens in Oaxaca, and thought of volunteering to help with that, but wondered who would help me with the resources required.

Albertina told me that the children make their own small donations one day each week to people who live in extreme poverty, especially the elderly of the community: "We want to make them aware that they are in a more comfortable position, that there are people in the world who are having a worse time."

She also mentioned that on weekends, some boys from the orphanage live semi-independently in a house in the village. Some merchants pay them to do simple work so that they learn to earn a living and have their own money. In this house, the children, unlike in the orphanage, have to help cook their own food. All this is to facilitate their transition, so that they are able to be self-sufficient when they come of age. There are plans to rent another space for adolescent girls, when resources allow.

I want to do everything I can to help them, and I hope you will join in. One option is to make a small monthly donation. On their website http://www.proyectodevida.org.mx/ they emphasize that a donation of $350 pesos a month will change the life of a child. There is also a Paypal button there. And your donation may be tax-deductible.

Contact Albertina Gonzales, the orphanage coordinator, at 442 391 2417 or projectodevida.coordinacion@gmail.com.

Contact me (at the email below) and we'll chat about it. Maybe we'll ride over to see Proyecto de Vida, in Villa Progreso together and bring everyone some bananas, with a couple extra set aside for José.

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Colette Morya is a poet and traveler-writer now residing in San Miguel where she is learning about historical and anthropological culture through her "urban tourism."

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