On the first day we arrived to FANLYC, a housing center for children with chronic illnesses and cancers, I couldn’t help but smile at how beautiful the center truly was. The central square courtyard consisted of a stone fountain surrounded by all sorts of flowers, a mini chapel decorated with a life-size Santa Claus propped next to the bell on the roof waving joyously as if delivering presents to all the children, and various Christmas decorations all throughout the center at every corner and turn of the paved walkways. All along the walls, inspirational paintings and posters of galaxies, nebulas, and supernovas were hung for aesthetic pleasures. On the third and last day of our morning volunteering at FANLYC, a particular poster of an exploding star caught my eye once again as I translated the message inscribed in Spanish:
Therefore, as a gesture of unconditional love, he chose to forever share with them pure feelings, expanding into a thousand pieces.
These words perfectly represent our actions of service for our three days at FANLYC. Within the few hours spent every morning, my classmates and I helped with the everyday duties of the staff by chopping vegetables, assisting with laundry, wiping the windows, mopping the floors, washing the walls, and even wrapping Christmas presents for the children. On our last day of service at FANLYC, we were given the task of sorting through hundreds of Christmas presents meant for the children at the center according to gender appropriate categories. Immediately upon stepping into the room, my jaw dropped and an astonished “wow” escaped from my lips. The decorated room filled with hundreds of presents was the epitome of Santa’s workshop - and we were given the honor of being Santa’s elves for a couple hours. Everyone jumped into the task immediately organizing a system of unwrapping the donated presents, sorting them out according to gender, and then neatly displaying them on the various tables around the room.
Christmas music from the courtyard lightly floated into Santa’s workshop over the rustling of wrapping paper and shouts of excitement from our classmates as everyone reminisced over the numerous types of Barbies, board games, and toy cars. Even as we sorted through all the toys, the atmosphere inside the room was filled with laughter and enthusiasm. The task presented to us was not viewed or felt as work, but as a privilege and fun activity to be helping the children in one way or another. As I looked around the room and skimmed over all the toys set on the tables and hanging from the walls, I could already imagine the faces of the children and the excitement building up in their expressions with their fingertips itching to choose their next adventure. This is the purpose of our service at FANLYC: to invoke the purest feelings of happiness in a child’s life, even if only for a mere second. One way this can be done is through the assistance of duties required by the staff to create and maintain a homey, encouraging, and loving atmosphere for the children battling illnesses that cause both emotional and physical pain.
Throughout this trip and Panamá experience of visiting hospitals, Nutre Hogar, and FANLYC, I have come to realize that good health is the greatest gift anyone can receive. For those children and adults who unfortunately have lost their health, the second greatest gift is support from loving individuals during the battles and pains of restoring health. FANLYC represents a community of individuals with the courage of presenting a pure unconditional love to a child. This can be done in a thousand ways, whether it is chopping carrots, cleaning bed sheets, scrubbing the chairs, or teaching a child how to play the piano. During the past three days, my classmates and I were given the privilege to share this unconditional love with the children of FANLYC, as each child brought out the pure sentiments of care within us.