S-U-S-A-N-A… SUSANA! by Kristin Mullen-Muhr

Friends and family frequently ask me what my favorite part is about being at Amigos de Jesus. I always tell them the kids. But it is one little girl in particular, who has really made an impact on my year here at amigos.

It was a hot day at the end of August, only a couple weeks after I first arrived at Amigos, that Jose (a fellow volunteer) and I traveled to San Pedro Sula to bring home to Amigos a brother and sister from the state run orphanage. I remember being introduced to Susana (6 years old) and her brother Alexis (10 years old) and Susana jumping into my arms for a hug with a shy smile. That smile didn’t leave her face for most of the day as we got to eat a big lunch of fried chicken followed by ice-cream at the mall, pick out her own pair of underwear, and listen to one of her favorite song’s “Ai se eu te pego” on the car-ride to Amigos (which is in Portuguese but she changes the lyrics so that they’re in Spanish...ai chucho perro). Her smile grew even bigger as we made the turn on the path to Amigos when someone pointed out to her the big white cross on the hill. She was home, although she didn’t quite know what that meant yet.

Throughout the next few months, part of my job at the school was tutoring Susana and Alexis everyday and helping them acclimate to their new roles as students in the school. Our first tutoring session involved more crying and a dejected head resting on the desk than it did learning. The first few weeks were a repeat of our first session. It was so difficult to see her struggling so much. Susana got frustrated easily as she was behind and not used to being in a school setting (in addition to being the only girl at the school) and it seemed that she really did not enjoy being there. She was very overwhelmed to say the least. But little by little, she would begin to get that spark in her eye. I think that one of the turning points for her was the day that Exon, our oldest boy at the hogar (who has special needs) taught her how to color in the lines. Anytime I needed her to revert back from her haphazard coloring to do the careful work that Exon had taught her was to say “color like Exon” and she would get a huge toothless smile on her face and patiently work. Before I knew it, Susana was asking me everyday when we were going to be able to go back to school to do tareas and on the weekends she would ask me how many days were left until Monday when we could go back to school to work together. She was a totally different student and from that point on, she began to learn things quickly that used to take her countless weeks to learn (like recognizing colors, the letters in the alphabet, etc.). She still struggled sometimes, but she knew that she could eventually do it. That made all of the difference with her.

I should comment that Susana is quite the singer and dancer. We always know when Susana is near because you can hear her singing some song to herself (and probably giggling with her crazy laugh). One day, a little bit after she learned how to “color like Exon,” I decided it was time that Susana knew how to spell her own name. She still did not know most of the alphabet in Spanish, so I made up a little dance (using the Macarena dance motions) to help her remember the six letters in her name. We practiced it a bunch of times so that she wouldn’t forget. After she was adequately rehearsed, we went to show it to others during recess: S-U-S-A-N-A…Susana!! The smile on her face grew bigger and bigger each time someone praised her for the great work she did. In no time, the entire hogar could hear this little chant being recited, not only by Susana, but soon by all of the chiquitos (the littlest kids) at Amigos. All anybody has to say now is S-U and all of us will finish spelling her name in our head without thinking.

Susana is a determined girl, full of so much love and passion for life. She isn’t afraid to dance in the rain (literally), sing at the top of her lungs, or run down the top of the hill from the cross. She looks out for those younger than her and is always asking questions. She loves learning (especially English) and after she learns words in a chant, she will never forget it (“vaca-cow, arbol-tree”). One day, she asked me some question to which I responded “because we are amigas (friends).” Then she responded, “No Cristina, it’s because we are hermanas (sisters)” I truly do love all of the children at Amigos, but there is something extremely special about S-U. It has been so incredible to see how Susana has grown from the timid girl who did not like school in her first few days at Amigos to the confident, intelligent, and loving girl she is today. She has taught me so much about what it means to love and to live. Many people at the hogar call her my hija (daughter) and some days I do feel like that is what she is to me. Susana is a person who I am never going to forget. So anytime you hear the two letters S-U put together, think of a special little girl, not so far away in Honduras, who will finish the phrase for you: S-A-N-A… Susana!