Sunday, August 21, 2016

Farewell from Christina

After a year internship with Atlantic Bridge Christina D'Onofrio wrote this about her final week with the Grey Cat, a Flemish youth organisation in Antwerp.

A couple weeks ago, my work with the Grijze Kat Catholic charity in Antwerp, Belgium, came to a close.  As an ambassador of Atlantic Bridge, I set out to build a bridge between our organization in the predominantly protestant Netherlands, and De Grijze Kat in predominantly Catholic Belgium.  This task was not free of challenges. The biggest of which being a language barrier.  I learned a very small amount of Dutch while I was here, but Flemish, the dialect spoken in Antwerp, can be difficult for even native Dutch speakers to understand.  All of the games, activities, and teaching strategies I had learned in undergrad had to be completely revamped to accommodate mostly non-verbal communication.  But we made it happen. With hand gestures and the longest game of charades in history, plus plenty of good humor, we got to know each other.

I went once or twice every month to do a program with these kids. We played games, made crafts, talked about things that were important (with the help of some wonderful teenage translators, of course), and cultivated friendships. My kids even cheered me on the rare occasions that I made contact with a football, what I’ve gotten in the habit of calling a soccer ball.  It has been wonderful.
The culminating event of the year was a weeklong camp. Our theme was Joseph, King of Dreams. We talked about siblinghood and jealousy, the gifts we were given, and our hopes and dreams of what to do with those gifts. We made dream catchers and our own tie-dye technicolored dream t-shirts. We slept in tents and went on hikes.  We sang songs and walked like Egyptians. We even had the opportunity to go sing for a local nursing home.  We had a bonfire and displayed those gifts in a camp talent show. We hugged and laughed and ran and communicated in so many ways. Many children at the camp came from immigrant families and spoke a good amount of English. But even those that did not speak English tried hard to include me in their games. We could always stand to learn from the generosity of children.

That is one thing that I really learned this year. The universality of love and belonging, the language of laughter, and the communal experiences that bind us all together. Thank you for that, my little grey cats.

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