Since my book, Santiago’s Children: What I Learned about Life at an Orphanage in Chile, was released in April by the University of Texas Press, I have received many generous notes – from both friends and those I have never met – about the book and about their own reflections on their journeys to be of service to others and draw lessons from those experiences.
Some of these notes have inspired a few of us to create a space for people to reflect and learn from others while thinking about trying to make a positive difference in the world.
Our hope is that this site will provide a space not only for people to respond to Santiago’s Children but also to explore a broader set of questions the book raises about the search for meaning and of being of service, and especially in the context of finding ways that connect our lives with important social challenges around the world.
Working with Enrique, Daniel, Leticia and Brooke at the non-profit organization Voluntarios de la Esperanza (Volunteers of Hope) or VE Global, in Santiago, we decided to combine forces to create this blog. (VE Global is a dynamic organization that places international volunteers at orphanages and works with at-risk children in Santiago, and well worth learning more about at www.veglobal.org.) I also want to give thanks to Gregor Brodsky who created the original Santiago’s Children webpage that provides the framework for this blog.
Santiago’s Children began with a journal I kept while I was working as a volunteer at the Hogar Domingo Savio orphanage in Santiago, Chile, from 1982 to 1984. It was there that I met a remarkable group of children who taught me so much. Some of the stories I tell in Santiago´s Children are funny, some poignant, some sad, some hopeful.
In retrospect, I now realize that many of the stories began with mile-high expectations about the contributions I was going to make in the lives of these kids and more generally in Chile. The results of most of these ambitious and often unrealistic efforts brought few fruits – and some had quite sad or comic endings.
However, many of these stories – and I think a lot of life – is about the gap between our dreams for a better world and the rock-hard reality we confront daily. I have come to believe that the most important things in life occur in that gap between our best and highest aspirations and a reality that is quite different.
Given this tension, one remedy is to resign and to accept the proposition, “Change is not possible. Abandon the dream.”
A more exciting and hopeful approach is to hang true to the dream and stay passionate about what you care about, but to keep learning in the process.
A number of decades have intervened since the events I wrote about in my book, and I sometimes find myself giving advice to students and others at crossroads in their own lives about “what next.”
I have learned that it is hard to make a wrong decision if you engage in things you care about, try your best to make a contribution to others, and continue to learn in the process. Struggling is an important part of the journey. My hope in publishing this book, and now this blog, is to reaffirm the belief that it is worth the struggle.
We hope this blog creates a space for people to share their reflections about the book and about their own struggles, hopes, aspirations, and insights in their efforts to make a contribution in a complicated world.
I will try to write regularly at this site, as will my friends at VE Global, World Teach, Amigos of the Americas, Partners in Health and many others who are trying to make a difference in the world.
I hope you contribute as well.