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Coming into this program, I did not anticipate was how dramatic the shifts between our work sites would prove to be. Even though all the centers we are placed in belong to the larger parent organization, ICCA, the children and young adults who make up each space have specialized needs. This has caused me, as a volunteer, to restructure my approaches, adapt to situations as they present themselves and grow constantly from each and every interaction.

Last week, I finished my final full rotation at Centro Lem Cachorro and began my time working at the Centro de Emergencia Infantil. While Centro Lem Cachorro primarily meets the needs of students from low-income homes and serves as a center similar to a Boys and Girls Club, the Centro de Emergencia Infantil is home to 30 individuals ranging from 5 months to 16 years. Among the many reasons for these infants, children and young adults to be placed to live in this center are domestic abuse, neglect, and other traumatic experiences that have impacted their lives significantly. As we have seen it, much of this influence manifests itself as behavioral issues or attachment disorders.

My first day in this center didn’t feel like a first at all; our group has been spending our Saturdays volunteering at this site, and I had already begun building relationships with many of the center’s members on a fairly individual basis. On this particular day, nothing immediately raised any red flags- our activities went more or less as according to plan, and the overall energy in the classroom felt familiar and comfortable. However, as my group transitioned into the next activity, my fellow Duke Engage partner and I were suddenly left with a whirlwind tantrum stemming from a quiet, well-behaved girl of about 10 years old.

Despite having had nearly 6 weeks of classroom control under my belt, this specific scene of paper shreds flying and supplies being thrown to the ground shook me in an unprecedented way. After nearly 45 minutes of stumbling through our limited Kriolu abilities to communicate concern rather than anger to the student, my partner and I were finally able to pinpoint what had triggered such an outburst. The young girl explained that she was mad at us for leaving her, citing our steadily approaching departure date as her main agitation.

Even after the reassurance and calming hugs, this student’s words stuck with me. We interact with varying degrees of attachment disorders every day in this unique environment, but, for me, many of these experiences ended when I exited the center’s doors. I didn’t consider the long-term implications of our presence or the consequences of a more permanent goodbye. As we near our final hours with the people who have shaped our lives well beyond this summer, I hope that the laughs, smiles and love exchanged is worth the potential hostility or disappointment that threatens to taint our last interactions. I learn from these centers every day, but I’m especially grateful for the critical lens that the Centro de Emergencia Infantil has offered, forcing me to reflect on my own interactions and involvement as a volunteer on this program and beyond.