Children and Resilience

Children and Resilience

“My name is Saray. I am eight years old and in the third grade. I live with my mother, father and baby brother on the coast of Chile.

“My name is Saray.  I am eight years old and in the third grade.  I live with my mother, father and baby brother on the coast of Chile.  My favorite time of the year is Christmas when all of my cousins come to visit.  I feel good when I play with my friends or when I am having fun with my family.  I like to go to church especially Sunday School.  I hope to help other people when I grow up.”

I called Saray’s mother on the phone a couple of weeks before I was to visit to ask if I could interview her spunky red haired daughter.  Saray answered my questions with earnest seriousness.  I have known Saray since she was a baby, and we have often played together, but the thought of an interview with the corresponding photo session made her feel excited and grown up.

I wanted to interview Saray to learn more about children and their resilience. I recently read an article in a leading Chilean newspaper which quoted statistics for the 2010 school year after the earthquake damaged school buildings in Chile had to be abandoned. The article stated that there had been a 60% increase in bullying in elementary and high schools in Chile during this one school year.  However, neither this article nor any other I read associated the alarming increase in school violence with the trauma of the national disaster.  I invited Saray to think back on this year and tell me what had been helpful and what had made her more resilient.

“I was awake when the earthquake started because I had gone to the bathroom.  My mom and dad jumped out of bed and took me to the kitchen because it was safer there.  I was very afraid.  Our house moved but it didn’t fall down.  We went to my grandparents’  house as soon as it stopped shaking because they live up the hill from the beach.  Our house had to be fixed after the earthquake so I stayed with my grandparents a long time.  After the earthquake I had nightmares and…(Saray pauses with a hint of embarrassment.)…I started wetting my bed, so my aunt took me to talk to a psychologist. She told me to imagine a warm, red blanket protecting me whenever I am afraid.  I imagined that it was God covering me with that blanket.  God gave me an imaginary red blanket to help me not be afraid.”

Saray’s grandfather is the pastor of a local congregation of the Pentecostal Church of Chile in the heart of the disaster zone.  Within a couple of days, supplies came pouring in to the church to help the victims of the tsunami and the earthquake.  Clothing, food, cleaning utensils, and household wares had to be sorted and packaged according to the necessities of the affected families.  Saray gave herself the responsibility of gleaning baby clothing from the boxes and checking the lists to send what would be needed in each family  to keep the littlest girls and boys warm, clean, and healthy.  She worked for several weeks while waiting for school to start.  Like her house, her school was not safe and also had to have major repairs.  Her school eventually reconvened in the building of another local church.  “I wanted to go back to school, but since I couldn’t, it helped me feel better to know that I was helping other people.”

“My best friend at school is Antonia.  She has diabetes, but we always take care of each other.  This year at school, something sad and bad happened to me.  Another girl made me be friends with her and told me I had to stop being friends with Antonia.  She told me she would hit me and tell lies about me if tried to be friends with anyone but her.  When the teacher made us share the same desk, I couldn’t concentrate because I was afraid of her.  I started getting bad grades.  One day, my mother found a nasty note I had written about Antonia.  She asked me about it, and I started crying.  I told her that this other girl had made me write it.  I wanted to know why this girl was so mean to me and to Antonia.  My mother explained that this girl’s parents were getting a divorce and that they had had many problems this year.  My mother talked to the teacher and together they promised to help me, Antonia and the other girl.”

Saray was born with an extremely rare skin tumor; she is the only person in Chile with this disease. There are only five other cases in the world and no known cure. This year, she had to stay in bed for two weeks because of an infection related to the tumor.   Saray spent the time in bed making “resilience bracelets” for other children.   “I guess having the tumor has made me more aware of other people who are hurting.” Because she has a loving family, caring teachers, good friends, opportunities to help others and a growing faith, Saray continues to develop resilience to life’s challenges.   

At the end of the interview, I asked Saray, if she had the opportunity to encourage children in the United States, what she would like to say to them.    She answered, “Tell the children who were in the tornados and floods that God is always with them and won’t ever leave them.  Tell the children who have cancer that when they pray, they will know that God is always beside them.”

MAY 2012 UPDATE:  I just arrived home after a weekend in Tomé visiting Saray and her aunt.  Saray is nine years old now, and in this year she has grown taller and a bit more serious.  It has been a difficult year.  With considerable financial effort, Saray’s family was able to take her to the capital city of Santiago to see a team of specialists who were to operate on the tumor on her leg.  After a week of exams and meetings with the doctors, they decided not to operate.  Saray was heartbroken.  She had overcome her fear of the operation in hope that she would no longer have to deal with the pain and discomfort on her leg.  The doctors have decided to try a new experimental treatment which is not covered by either the public or private insurance system.  Saray’s mother tells me that the doctors are trying to get coverage from the government system, but the process may take many months.  In the meantime, Saray must work to reduce the inflammation on her leg both with medication and by not exerting herself in anyway.  She has had to give up dancing and physical education classes.  Saray´s cheerfulness and hope still bubble up and this vivacious redhead still sparkles with joy wherever she goes.  She is, however, more introspective these days and in the quiet moments of reflection, she wonders why God has not yet healed her.

Saray wanted me to be sure to say ¡GRACIAS!  thank-you to all of you who wrote notes and sent her little gifts during this difficult year.  She was amazed and encouraged by the number of people who were praying for her.  A friend is able to translate the cards and notes that she receives. 

Saray Faundez Benitez

Submitted by:
Elena Huegel

Elena Huegel is a missionary with the Pentecostal Church of Chile (IPC)She serves as an environmental and Christian education specialist.