When Delmy García was seven years old, she was told she had a bad heart. “I had to stay at the hospital for a week,” Delmy says. “I was very sad.” She always knew she was different—unable to run outside, out of breath after climbing a few stairs, constantly sitting on the sidelines at recess—but doctors finally confirmed her status as an outsider: Delmy had a heart defect.
I met Delmy when I was in Guatemala with Cooperative for Education (CoEd) this past February. She was the sweetest little girl, small for her age, full of untapped energy bustling just underneath the surface of her shy, timid demeanor. I sat down with her in a tucked-away corner of her dusty primary school classroom to hear her story, and to talk about how CoEd’s Culture of Reading Program (CORP) had helped her in school. Below is a brief excerpt:
Delmy’s health problems affected her schoolwork and how she related to her peers. Her second-grade teacher Tulio told me, “Before CORP, Delmy could barely read, and didn’t associate with the other children.” She was withdrawn and timid, not willing to speak up in class or reach out to make friends. She was alone.
Something happened between then and now, one year after Delmy learned about her heart defect. Once a shy girl unable to write her name, Delmy has been transformed into a confident and capable reader. She participates in class, eagerly raising her hand to answer questions. She has even made some friends. Tulio attributes these positive changes to the CORP Program, saying, “Before, Delmy was timid and didn’t want to talk in class. Now that we have incorporated this program, she enjoys actively participating.”
Delmy recognizes that she is different from other children, acknowledging, “My heart hurts when I am too active.” But being in and out of hospitals and around healthcare professionals has given her a new worldview. “I want to become a doctor someday to help kids with heart problems just like me,” she says.
A few days after meeting Delmy, I was at a nearby school to help inaugurate their new computer center. Sitting on a concrete step to watch the presentation take place, I suddenly felt a tiny hand grab my arm. It was Delmy! Without saying a word, she sat down next to me on the concrete, put her hand in mine, and rested her head on my shoulder. Soon, her little sister joined. The three of us stayed like that for what felt like hours and just seconds; an eternity and the blink of an eye. I never wanted to leave.
I’ve talked to many Guatemalan students about their experiences with CoEd’s programs; after all, that’s why they pay me the big bucks (big bucks being a subjective statement), but Delmy is the one I keep coming back to; the one who keeps me up at night wondering how she’s doing, whether or not she’s made more friends, how her schoolwork is going. Does she still want to be a doctor? That’s the thing about these kids. They face nearly insurmountable odds on a daily basis with incredible aplomb and determination. They go to bed hungry and walk five miles to school the next morning. They work in the fields with their parents before and after class. They study by candlelight because their home doesn’t have electricity. And when I least expect it, one takes my hand and doesn’t let go, a gentle vise-grip on my heart.
I don’t know if I will ever see Delmy again, but I take comfort in knowing that she is benefiting from the generosity of our organization’s supporters. Maybe someday our paths will cross again, and I can sit with Delmy, hand in hand, soul to soul, and connect with something so much bigger than myself that my core simultaneously shatters and mends, two hearts beating as one.
Photo (Flickr CC) by Marlon Cureg