Moments of Joy

You may be getting the impression that mostly serious or frightening things happen at Familia Feliz. I'd like to take this time to communicate that a day hasn't gone by here that I haven't been grateful for some joyful moment. These moments are rapidly piling up, so I want to include some of them here.


I'd like to start this thought by saying my heart goes out to Carlo and Sierra who actually have to deal with the Leones boys. They are hyperactive, disobedient, rambunctious, and endlessly inexhaustible. Disciplining them and forcing them to cooperate while still loving them has been quite the challenge for these volunteers.

That being said, I only interact with them on a limited basis so I think they're adorable angles. They are always yearning for hugs and someone to climb on since living in a group home means these forms of affection are in short supply. Because of this, I try to love on them whenever I see them. It's worth all the trouble watching their faces of pure joy when you swing them around in circles, or trying to keep Otto awake during dinner, or seeing their faces light up and their arms open wide for a hug when they see Carlo.

Leaving the door open in the morning means hooligans are bound to roll up on their way to school.

Katie-Jane's Polaroid of all the volunteers in our school uniforms.

Graciana is an integral member of the Harding family and the whole of Familia Feliz, so her 16th birthday was a big deal!


Graciana's birthday was a big deal for the whole campus. She's one of Melissa's children and an iconic member of the Familia Feliz. She may act tough and heartless, but truthfully she's fiercely loyal and has a sly, sarcastic sense of humor that brings joy to our often sluggish class periods. The volunteers made her a card and wrote notes on it, and her family bought cake and had a huge party outside.

After the cake, which had miraculously survived constant attempts on its life by baby Rogalio and Alicia all evening, had been distributed to many hungry mouths, we all sat around basking in a moment of community wondering what we should do next. Suddenly, the five of us volunteers who were sitting on one of the benches felt a starchy moistness smeared across the backs of our necks; Graciana had nonchalantly sauntered behind us with a handful of leftover cake and slashed all of us in one fell swoop.

After we recovered from the initial shock and the shouts of surprise died down, Lisiane and Carlo took initiative in claiming the rest of the leftover cake as ammunition in for revenge. It is one of the greatest professional tragedies of my life that I wasn't able to get a photo of Lisiane absolutely plastering Graciana using a throw usually reserved for Renaissance paintings and Greek statues. In the chaos, several others were happily caught in the crossfire.

I thought I had survived the worst of it with only a little frosting on my neck. No no. Unknown hands reached from behind me and completely smeared my face with cake and a little bit of grass and mud it had accumulated from its brief time on the ground. I was shocked to discover the perpetrator was Teacher Melissa! After expressing my disbelief, she raised her fists in a grinning victory: "You just don't know me yet!"

Some of the victims: Katie-Jane, me, Graciana, Carlo, Lisiane, and a would-be perpetrator creeping in the back.

Día de Estudiantes

Día de Estudiantes

Students' Day is a Bolivian national holiday where students get the day off from school. At Familia Feliz, this means all the kids get to play games in the morning. This year, we planned out about a dozen group activities that each of the age groups rotated through. I was with Lisiane at the "food-based games" station. This was not just a moment but a whole morning of joy. We got to throw pudding at little kids, watch the older kids climb on each other to eat apples off a string, and make futile attempts at explaining popcorn-eating contests to 3-year-olds.

Día Libre

Día Libre

The volunteers are split up into two groups for our days off on Tuesdays and Thursdays. As a member of the superior Día Libre group, I can say we get up to a lot of joy-filled adventures.

Other Moments

Other Moments

Maddy introduced me to the term "cuteness aggression": when something is so ovewhelmingly cute you just want to shake them until you explode. I experience that emotion very strongly when I see this picture.

More Cake

After the commotion he caused last week, Ricardo decided to go and have a birthday this week. He had asked us to buy him new shoes with his own money last week, so we pretended to forget and gave him his money back. I think he was pleasantly surprised when we gave him shoes on his birthday anyway. Unfortunately, they ended up being way too big!

Not only that, Elizabeth and I spent all afternoon making a cake that ended up being a little too sweet for our American tastes and completely unappetizing for Bolivian palettes. We'll get a birthday dessert correct one of these times!


Despite the many frustrations that come up while teaching the high schoolers, they are a hilarious bunch. Rodrigo has difficulty reading so he tends to give up on problems he would otherwise understand. This is why Elizabeth is probably tired of hearing me say "¡Tú puedes!" (You can!). However, I'm often reminded to be patient when Rodrigo cracks a joke about the lice on his head doing his difficult math problems for him or he starts trying to convince me that entire blank pages are completed and that he can leave for a recess; I'm helpless to do anything but laugh. He reminds me to focus on moments of joy even in the face of endless fractions and outdated British English.

I don't have a photo of him right now since he's ridiculously camera-shy, especially since he's had stitches in his head from the rock-throwing incident last week, but I'm going to get a good one of him one of these days.

Fitting In

Fitting In

God has been giving me little moments to remind me that I'm supposed to be here and that I'm making a positive impression, even if it's very small. It's inspiring and sometimes even discomforting to experience the warmth, friendliness, and joy of these people who have experienced so much more pain and trauma than me. It reminds me to be more generous with my love, time, and joy when I have been given so much.