It’s that time of year again- time for giving gifts, giving thanks, and giving back. My year is looking a bit different from my usual Italian-American Christmas in New York. Instead, for the second time, I’m celebrating my Christmas in Georgetown, Guyana where they hang lights on palm trees and play reggae Christmas music. For me, that’s not the only difference. I am teaching for the first time in my life and struggling to comprehend the reality of my students lives. As a Mercy Volunteer, I live simply in community where we forge vulnerable relationships in hopes of meeting genuine selves and encountering God.
During my first Christmas in Guyana, my community and I invited four boys from the Bosco Orphanage (an orphanage for boys run by the Sister of Mercy) to stay with us for Christmas. They were about 6-10 years old, and they all piled into my bed giggling and whispering at their unfamiliar freedom from matrons and routines. As I settled into my makeshift bed on the floor, I cautioned, “You have to go to sleep or Santa won’t come.” I laughed to myself thinking of my uncharacteristic role as the parent. In my family, I am perpetually the “baby,” as the youngest in family; this is made especially clear during family holidays.
I recall my cherished childhood memories of going to bed early, and hoping to sneak a peak at Santa as he tenderly laid my personalized gift under the tree. Now, we know Santa doesn’t exist, but we all once believed in the magic of Christmas. Last year, I was Santa. Or, perhaps more accurately, the donors were Santa. The difference is that my Bosco Boys are fully aware of that. There were four garbage bags of donated toys that they brought with them to my house that night. In each, there was a mishmash of presents for boys, girls, toddlers, and teens. They were not personalized. They were not built particularly for them by Santa or, better yet, by loving parents.
Many wonder what they can give to support the mission in Guyana. Resources here are low, this is true. But, these boys do not need any more garbage bags of mismatched toys – they need someone who cares. They need your bodies; they need your hearts. Mercy Volunteer Corps offered me that opportunity. I decided to give myself away to my community, my students, and my Bosco Boys. Now, you are invited to the same decision – the decision to be transformed by the radical grace of poverty. Yes, they are not saved by us, we are saved by them. Saved from our apathy and our hardened hearts.
I will be away from my family, once again, this holiday, and I do miss them. I miss my Italian pasta and my boisterous brothers. Instead, I’ll be eating Guyanese pepperpot, and corralling a new set of boisterous brothers. Neither of us will have our families for the holidays, but we’ll be striving to give each other the love we are missing.
Dylan Salomone: 2nd year Mercy Volunteer in Guyana, South America