Estefanny was one of the first people that I “connected” with in the orphanage.

We met in the courtyard one evening. I believed her to be around 12 or 13 years old. We didn’t speak, but we began playing “volleyball” with a balloon as others played games around us. Her smile and playful laugh lit up the entire courtyard. The more we played, the more I began to realize that Estefanny seemed to have a slight mental handicap. We played for a while more and then went on our separate ways.

Every time I saw her after that evening, her eyes would light up. She would always do funny things to make me smile or laugh. If I was singing or playing guitar she would come over and pretend to sing along or she would pretend to be “conducting” an orchestra. She would laugh. I would smile back at her.

One evening at dinner, I attempted to capture a picture of her. She ducked down behind someone. So I walked over to her and told her (half in Spanish, half in pantomime) that I wanted to take a picture WITH her. She smiled and consented.

I sat with her at dinner that night. I attempted to communicate with her, but felt kind of inept – no, completely inept. After a few moments of awkward silence, she looked at me and said, “Do you like it here?” Kind of taken aback by the fact that she was speaking very clear English, I responded, “Yes.” “Why.” she asked. “Because it’s fun here.” She shrugged her shoulders. “No?” I asked. “Maybe,” she answered. We played games at the table, talked, and shared our favorite things. I found out that she was almost 18, but she was only a freshman in high school. As I observed her and the other kids from the orphanage, I began to realize why I had been attracted and drawn to Estefanny in the first place. She was the “black sheep.” She was the outcast, the lonely. As we were sitting at the table, someone threw something at her head from across the room. The look of hidden and suppressed pain on her face broke my heart.

The day we were leaving, I was sitting in the cafeteria when she came over to me. She was carrying her English homework from school. She laid a test down on the table. She had scored 107%, and she wanted to show me. I told her what I good job she had done. After a while she disappeared, but returned with a silver box. When she opened it revealed a beautiful art set that she had received for Christmas. She told me about how she loved to draw. I complimented her on the set. She disappeared once again, this time returning with a photo album. In the album were pictures of herself when she was a baby and throughout her childhood, pictures of siblings, friends, and even people who sponsor her. As I looked at the pictures, I came to the realization that Estefanny had lived in orphanages for her whole life – at least since she was still an infant. I asked her who her best friend was. She shrugged her shoulders. Estefanny had no friends. She told me that the other kids would single her out and refuse to let her be a part of their friendships. “But I say to them, ‘I don’t care,'” she told me. I found out that the only time she has “friends” are when Americans come to visit. My heart ached, knowing that I would be leaving in just a few hours. In that short amount of time, I witnessed several more people throw things at her, ignore her when she tried to talk to them, say (what I assume to be) mean things, or give her disapproving glares.

After a while, she disappeared once again. This time she came back with a clinched fist. “Give me your hand. Close your eyes. Do not open.” I obeyed. I felt her slide something over my hand and onto my wrist. When I looked down, it was a thin, green, rubber bracelet. I looked at her as she held up her arm revealing a matching bracelet on her wrist. “Friends,” she said.

When I told her that I had to go that evening, she told me, “No.” She told me that I had to stay there with her. I tried to explain that I had to go home. She understood, but it was still painful. I told her that I would come back, and to the best of my ability, I will keep my word.

I needed to go and finish my packing, but I asked her if she would come out and say goodbye when I had to leave. She told me that she would. When I walked out of the cafeteria, I didn’t know that it would be the last time that I saw Estefanny.

There are Estefanny’s everywhere. There are lonely people in our own communities. There are friendless people in our own backyards. You don’t have to travel to another country to find them. Be a friend to someone today. Love them. Show them you care. It might just make all the difference.

#lovewins #Mexico

Robby Lower, Mexico 2017