Amar Sem Palavras (Love Without Words)

Coming to Brazil for a bridge year, I knew that I would struggle.

I knew that leaving home and moving 6,559 miles away from home to learn a new language, work at multiple apprenticeships, and live with a family would stretch me in ways I had never experienced

Alondra
Alondra Quiles, Global Citizen Year fellow in Brazil

before. I wouldn’t be waking up midday to a phone call from my friends asking to hang out. Instead, choosing to take a bridge year through Global Citizen Year, I would be living in the unknown and diving deeper into my interest of criminal justice and psychology prior to enrolling at a university.

I felt ready, as though I could handle anything. It wasn’t until I was placed with Ignacio as a host brother that I was truly put to the test.

Ignacio has bright, big, blue eyes and the longest eyelashes that anyone could have. He is a very special person, not only to me but to everyone that is fortunate enough to meet him. He isn’t your average eight year-old boy.

Ignacio
Ignacio

He can’t talk. He can’t walk. He can’t eat. He can’t do “normal things”.

He can grunt. He can cry. He goes to school twice a week. Two hours a day. He goes to APAE, a center for kids with disabilities.

Ignacio has cerebral palsy. I thought I was ready to handle this challenge, because one of my closest friends back home has cerebral palsy. Then, I actually stepped foot into my new home with my family and I was introduced to my new brother. My relationship with Ignacio stretched me because I had no idea how I would ever be able to interact with him.

I remember asking myself: How would I interact with him? How would we bond if he can’t respond? 

What I learned is that you don’t need to have conversations with someone to connect. You don’t need to go out and see the city together to grow close. You don’t need much to appreciate and love a person. All you need is quality time together.

For me that means holding his hand and talking to him in my very chopped Portuguese words every day. It means wiping off the drool from the side of his face and the tears that slip down his pale cheeks. It means saying “Oi, Ignacio, tudo bem?” (Hi, Ignacio, is everything okay?) every time I walk into the house or just saying “Oi,” (Hi)  and “Tchau, Ignacio,” (Bye, Ignacio). It means letting him know that he is present and that I acknowledge him. And the truth is, adjusting to life with him became easy. It feels like I’ve grown up with him my entire life because just like me, he is human and he, too, matters.

Alondra & Ignacio
Alondra & Ignacio

Back in the United States – where I lived just three months ago – my family has little to no disabilities or difficulties with extreme health issues. Some people would say that I am privileged. But I wouldn’t. Because the biggest lessons are taught when we are presented with differences. Call it fate or call it luck, but having Ignacio as a host brother has been the greatest gift. I am extremely excited to continue to learn about my host brother. Nothing beats the big smile on his face that literally lights up the room every day. In the states, I used to go to work and struggle with clients who were different from me because I didn’t know how to interact with them. Now I know.

Ignacio has reminded me to observe my actions around those who are different from me, to acknowledge how I treat them and to treat them as an equal.

Look around and ask yourself, who could use a little extra love? And how can I give it? Sometimes we forget to give love to those that need it most because we are too afraid of their differences.

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