[The morning of our service learning,] three South Africans (Tendai, Marang, and Keo), a few Mexicans, and I (the only American) arrived at AMANC. AMANC stands for Asociación Mexicana de Ayuda a Niños con Cáncer en Querétaro IAP or Mexican Association for the Help of Kids with Cancer in Querétaro. Greeted by two nurses, we headed to the cafeteria, about a quarter the size of the old McFall Hall, for reference.

There we were met with a little boy named, Emiliano, which one of the nurses affectionately called “Emi.” All anyone heard from Emi were giggles and the pitter patter of his six year old running footsteps. Soon about five or six kids and their moms showed up, and we all sat down for a dinner of rice, black refried beans, and chicken or chorizo. I sat down in front of a boy with a black Metallica shirt and enormous silver and green thermos which he was drinking from. His name is Kevin and his mom is Carina, they both have the same large, sparkling brown eyes, and I can feel the closeness of their connection as mother and son.

As we ate, I encouraged some small talk and translated for Marang as she spoke to them. Through this, we found out that Kevin, a nine year old, has osteosarcoma, cancer of the bones and has been coming to AMANC for two years. He goes for five days a month and gets treatment for those five days straight. Pushing through the small talk, we started getting into conversation about trabalenguas or tongue twisters. “Camarón, Caramelo” Kevin and I repeated as fast as we could, Kevin beating me every time, until the words turned into jumbled sounds in the midst of laughter.

In terms of reflecting on this experience, I have been thinking about how I work a lot with kids in rough situations whether that be broken or abusive or unstable families or in food desserts or in poverty. I have realized that when I first started working with these underprivileged kids, whether that be at Oak Grove or at STAR, I would always try to come out of each session with some big takeaway or some profound message. Yet, over the past couple years, I have also come to the understanding that community service is just about trying your best as a team to provide some kind of support or happiness or just an opportunity to fill time with something other than having the kids play video games or something else.

I have learned that, in the short run, community service is this rather than changing their lives or “improving” their communities by infiltrating privilege into underprivileged spaces. So, this is the approach I wanted to take to AMANC; I know that I don’t understand what these kids or what the moms are going through and I don’t think I ever will without actually going through what they are going through. I brought this mindset to AMANC, knowing that I wasn’t going to alter Kevin’s life but rather just spend an hour or so with him and his mom and hopefully bring some joy just within that time. Even if I couldn’t make some grand change, I do believe in the small building up to the large; I hope that Kevin and his mom continue to find joy wherever and whenever they can. Ultimately, I left AMANC with gratitude and a greater understanding of the power and importance of awkward, face to face connection for genuine happiness to form.

– Caroline R C.