MEET AN AMIGA ~ Christina Gennaoui (2014-2018 Volunteer)

Miss Christina (standing in middle) with her'Prepa' (Kindergarten) class during the 2015-2016 school year. 

Miss Christina (standing in middle) with her'Prepa' (Kindergarten) class during the 2015-2016 school year. 

Christina, or Miss Christina as she’s known around the ‘hogar,’ holds the unique distinction of being the only volunteer at Amigos who has served in every volunteer program that our organization has to offer; as a short term volunteer, an ‘Escuelita’ (summer camp) volunteer, a BECA (Bilingual Education for Central America) teacher, and now as the Medical Coordinator as an Amigos volunteer. It’s not this distinction, however, that makes Miss Christina so special; it’s the hours she spends running around playing with the kids, the way she says ‘yes’ to taking on whatever project is asked of her, and the dedication she shows towards keeping all the children at the ‘hogar’ healthy.  Additionally, her continual presence and commitment to our family throughout the past several years has helped reinforce to our children that even when a volunteer’s term of service ends, there’s always a chorus of little voices that calls them back ‘home.’

Read more about Christina in her interview below:

  1. Age: 29
  2. Hometown: Glassboro, New Jersey
  3. University: Rowan University
  4. Majors/Minors: Physics

5. How did you first hear about Amigos de Jesús?

My Aunt Marlene! I don’t remember when the first time was exactly, but she’s my connection to Amigos.

6. You've been around Amigos for several years now through various volunteer programs. What have been some of your different roles at Amigos de Jesús during this time?

I came the very first time in July 2014 for the week-long mission trip. We had around 20 people staying in a house with four bedrooms and two bathrooms. It was great. I fell in love with Amigos that week. I spent time babysitting the little ones, prepping meals in the kitchen, weeding the cornfields and most importantly, just loving every second I got to spend playing out in the 'hogar.' I cried when I left… after 1 week.

The following year I decided to take six months of leave from my job. I was tired of my windowless cubicle, doing work that I wasn’t passionate about and living a life that felt a little too mundane for me. Shout-out time again! When I emailed Amy and Wilson asking if I could come back for a few months, to do literally anything, they let me! I flew back to Honduras in May 2015 and was the on-site leader for 'Escuelita', the summer camp program.

Christina (pictured in the back with sunglasses) with the 2015-2016 BECA volunteer community she served with. 

Christina (pictured in the back with sunglasses) with the 2015-2016 BECA volunteer community she served with. 

Towards the end of the summer program, I heard that there were some teaching positions still available with the BECA (Bilingual Education for Central America) program. It didn’t take me long to decide to apply and within a week, I had applied, interviewed, and committed to staying. I eventually quit my job back home, too. So, I taught Prepa (kindergarten) for the 2015-2016 school year. I could talk forever about that year because I have so many memories with some of the funniest and most-loving students you’ll find at our school. I fell in love with Amigos all over again in that classroom.

I left Amigos at the end of the school year for about 6 months, with the intent to come back for another year, but this time as an ADJ volunteer. So, here I am, back at ADJ. I’m living in a different house this year, with a different community, but in the same 'hogar' that I love so much. I’m the medical coordinator now, which means I'm charge of our on-site clinic, medical appointments, medicines, and whatever else pops up. I guess I’m just testing out jobs like I’m testing out Amigos volunteer programs.

It's weird to reflect back on how everything aligned itself so perfectly for me to end up here. There are lots of people to thank for helping me get here. My family and friends back home. My boss and co-workers that let me take six months of leave. Amy and Wilson. All of the communities I’ve lived in and all the friends I’ve made here. My boyfriend who basically uprooted his life to come to Honduras, too. THE KIDS. Just thank you to everyone who supported me these past few years. Love you all!

7. You must have some pretty cool perspectives from working at Amigos in so many different volunteer programs. Can you talk about how you've seen the 'hogar' and/or the kids change during your time as a volunteer?

Dag. I don’t know, so many ways. The actual physical structure of the hogar and neighboring community has changed - there was no chapel when I came the first time, no bridge, the school was smaller, it didn’t have playground equipment, etc. The living style was different, too - kids were separated into dorms by age, so all the 'chiquitos' (the smallest kids at the 'hogar') lived together, we ate all our meals in the 'comedor', etc.

The kids have gotten taller and speak more English. The longer I’m here, the more I get a real look at the intricacies of each of their personalities. I’ve learned their favorite foods, what they want to be when they grow up, who their best friends are, what subjects they like at school, what they’re afraid of, what they worry about, etc. It’s only with time that you gain confidence and trust with someone, especially when you’re also battling cultural differences and language barriers, too. So it’s been really cool to have the kids gradually open up more and more to me.

You can honestly pick any section of Amigos -the kitchen, agro, medicine - and I could make a list of the changes that I’ve seen in the 3 years since I first came to visit. That’s why it becomes so addictive to volunteer here. It’s exciting to see change happen so quickly, and it’s empowering to be a part of those changes. There’s always room for improvement, and every single person that works here - Honduran, North American, everyone - works hard to make it happen.

Miss Christina during her first trip to Amigos as a week long volunteer in 2014. 

8. What made you decide to come back for a second full year of service, this time with the Amigos de Jesús volunteer program?

I didn’t really put that much thought into deciding to stay the second year. Thinking about the possibility of staying made me feel happy, so I stayed. Just felt right.

9. What is your favorite part of your job?

I have lots of favorite parts, but I guess my favorite part of my actual role here is medical trips. I get to be with the kids in a very special way for medical appointments and procedures. It’s one-on-one time, sometimes with kids you don’t necessarily spend a lot of time with otherwise. They can be scared and nervous, and you’re their person for that moment. You’re their voice, their advocate, their support. They need you, and it’s a time when you really feel that. At the same time, you get to see some really amazing things. I was there when one of our kids had reconstructive surgery to give him thumbs. I was there when the kids all received hearing screenings for the first time and we found a number of them that needed hearing aids. I got to watch them hear with hearing aids for the first time. I don’t know how to describe what you feel in those moments. But it’s amazing.

10. I know it's hard but can you share one of your favorite memories from your time at Amigos de Jesús?

I think some of my favorite times at the 'hogar' are special events. I love the excitement that buzzes through the 'hogar' leading up to it, when the kids can’t stop talking about whatever event it is that's coming up. I love the planning, watching the decorations be made, being a part of the setup, and seeing everyone’s joy when it all comes together. I love the way the kids dress up, picking out their special outfit and doing their hair. I love that everyone in the whole 'hogar' comes together, when that special event is the #1 thing happening in all of our lives. The togetherness is what I love, I guess. The time together. The big events on the calendar right now are the birthday party happening for all the 18 year olds and the Christmas soccer tournament. Soon we’ll have our Christmas celebration, New Years, and Three Kings Day. But there’s always something to celebrate, always a reason to come together.

11. Advice to future volunteers or anyone considering applying to any of the volunteer opportunities here at Amigos?

Stop overthinking whether you should apply or not and just do it!

Even on the worst day here, when you’re exhausted and overwhelmed and you didn’t sleep well and someone yelled 'gringa fea' (ugly gringa) at you and you just want running water and a hot shower and to hear everyone talk in a language where you understand every word, this place is special. You feel noticed here. You feel cared for here. You feel empowered and creative and strong. You learn to care for others, to forgive, to share, to be present. You grow, in ways you don’t even realize you needed to until you live here. You gain friends, you learn a language, you become a tutor, a teacher, a doctor, an event-planner, a photographer. You will learn more than you can even imagine. But the best part…you know when you walk into your house after being away for a while and you drop your bags, sigh and feel your shoulders relax into a sag and a smile creeps onto your face, you that you’re finally home and you can relax. That’s what you’re going to get from Amigos. A home. And 150 uniquely special family members to go with it.

And if you want to volunteer but you can’t decide which program, get in touch. I’ve tested ‘em all out!

Miss Christina with one of her 'Prepa' students last year.

Dressed up celebrating Día del Niño (Children's Day) this past September. 

Dressed up celebrating Día del Niño (Children's Day) this past September. 

The current Amigos de Jesús volunteer community that Miss Christina is serving with (pictured second to the right). 

The current Amigos de Jesús volunteer community that Miss Christina is serving with (pictured second to the right). 

More quality time with students outside of class!

Miss Christina with one of our young girls following this year's Honduran Independence Day Parade. 

Miss Christina with one of our young girls following this year's Honduran Independence Day Parade.