It is the final week of the program, and as is the case every year, we are all busy with the ritualized goodbye celebrations known as despedidas. In each of the communities where we have been working, the people express their thanks for our presence and contributions by making speeches, exchanging hugs and handshakes, and most of all, by inviting us to consume large amounts of food.
Yesterday we celebrated the conclusion of the baking project in the barrio of San Ysidro. Over the last six weeks, our students have worked alongside the women of that community as they learned to bake cakes, pastries, empanadas and salteñas, all of which they shared with us at the despedida. The women positively glowed with pride as they showed off their products, insisting that each of us eat at least one of each of the items on display. I have high hopes that this project will continue after our departure, especially once the kitchen that we have helped to finance is completed and the women have a dedicated space in which to do their baking.
For much of the summer, it must be said, our students were unsure of their contributions to this community. Though they organized sports and English classes for children and worked together with the women as they learned to bake, the students often felt as though they weren't actually "doing" anything. But at the despedida last night, all of us were blown away by the extent of the women's achievement and their deep gratitude for what we had provided them. Women praised our students, and the kids with whom they have been working gave them enormous hugs and begged them not to leave. The students, I think, realized for the first time the nature of their contribution - that just being present in this community, getting to know people and providing the resources through which these women could improve their lives and the lives of their families, they had accomplished a great deal.