No Translation Necessary

There are few things more frustrating than being in a foreign country and unable to communicate with the people you encounter. It’s especially hard when children try to talk to you. In Bolivia, I encountered this often. Their bright little eyes looked into mine curiously anticipating a kind word…and I had nothing.

“I don’t understand…I’m sorry,” I would say as tenderly as I could. Or I’d say something of the sort in their language, likely butchering the pronunciation.

The “Bigs” always understand. These older children would just laugh at my pronunciation, shrug and usually proceed to “teach” me their language. The “Littles,” though…they would simply forget in a few moments that I didn’t understand them and continue to chatter incessantly. Oh, what I would have given to understand their chattering.

I spent almost four days dealing with this frustration. Even when the translator was with me, I wanted so badly to understand these children without his aid. When excited Littles beckoned me to come play, I wanted to contribute to our Barbies’ conversations (or at least try). When they smiled across the table at dinner, I wanted to tell them that I was so happy to be visiting their home, that I was so impressed with their crafts and amazed at their immaculately clean bedrooms. I wanted to ask them about their lives in Bolivia and their favorite things to do and their best friends and what in the world was in the food we were eating?!

One thing I understood very clearly, though. These Littles were incredibly happy at Haven of Hope. There was a sense of contentment. They giggled and played together on the jungle gym, constantly brushing wisps of dark hair away from smiling faces. There was a sense of openness. Their eyes shone bright as they “welcomed” our team into their tight-knit family, hanging from limbs, riding piggyback, teaching us Spanish.

Had I not discussed each child’s circumstance with the director, I would have never known the severity of trauma these Littles had faced in their short lives.

One afternoon, I asked the director to sit down with me and explain where the girls at Haven of Hope came from. In response, she fished a list out of a locked cabinet and handed it to me across the desk…

Sexual Abuse…

Sexual Abuse…

Sexual Abuse…

Rescued from Child Labor…

Physical Abuse…

Rescued from Human Trafficking…

My stomach turned as I read the words and matched them to the faces of the children I had been playing with all weekend.

I remembered swinging on the playground with Maria, the meek one. She was quiet, but she had a sparkle in her eyes. 6 years old. Father’s a violent alcoholic. Victim of sexual abuse within her own family after her mother’s death.

I remembered playing Barbie with Kim, the kind one. Her dolls were always chatting to one another, “holding hands,” and dancing together. She was a very imaginative little lady with the cutest pig tails I’d ever seen. 6 years old. 6 months ago, she didn’t even know how to hold a pencil. Neglected and nearly beat to death by her own mother. Father unknown.

I remembered holding Sara on my lap and watching her sleepy eyes drift into sleep. Ironically, that was the stillest she’d been all weekend. She was wildest of the Littles, by far. Her snaggle-tooth grin was full of life and curiosity. 8 years old. Abandoned by an abusive father. Lost her mother to cancer last year.

I remembered seeing Sonia smile across the dining hall. She was extremely intelligent. One of the highest IQ’s of any of the girls, a caretaker had told me with pride in her eyes. Extremely affectionate and sweet to the other girls. 6 years old. “Sold” to another family by her own mother. Abused physically and sexually. Escaped on her own to find police.

When I emerged from the office, I was greeted by the same smiling faces that I had left outside. The Littles were eager to drag me across the yard to some new activity and they chattered on and on about things I couldn’t understand.

But their smiles, their laughter, their joy, and their love spoke to me more than words ever could. Maria was safe. Kim was loved. Sara was at home. Sonia was at peace. It was all too clear that this place had afforded them healing and hope. I needed no translator to see that.

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Story : Emily Glover

Photography : Jeremy Snell