Lay missioner Hady Mendez talks about one of the new friends she has made in Cochabamba, Bolivia. 

As the youngest of four sisters, I’m used to being the “little sister.” However, during the times I’ve formally participated in the Big Brother Big Sister program back in the states, I’ve really enjoyed being the “older sister” and imparting wisdom and advice and love on my little. It brings me a lot of joy to connect to someone who starts off as a stranger and to see that relationship change over time.

Yrene, Melany, and Hady

Yrene, Melany, and Hady

Our first meeting was good. We went for ice cream, then back to my apartment so she could see where and how I live. She didn’t talk a lot in that first meeting. I asked about a billion questions. But from past experience, I knew this was normal.A few months ago, Yrene, one of the workers at Manos Con Libertad, asked if I would consider spending some time with her daughter Melany. I really enjoy Yrene (she’s sort of the class clown at the restaurant) and thought it would be nice to get to know her daughter, so I agreed. I was nervous about taking on another commitment but have generally taken on the attitude here “to go where I am invited.”

For our second meeting, we decided to go for ice cream again. This time she opened up more. She told me about her life at home, her extended family, and what was going on at school. After that meeting, I gave Melany my phone number and told her she could call or text me if she ever needed anything or just wanted to talk.

A few days before our next meeting – we are on a two-week schedule these days – she texted me on a Saturday night to find out what I was up to. I told her I was watching a movie. Turns out she was too. We exchanged a few messages and I realized she was OK. She just wanted to “chat.”

When we met the following Monday, we headed to one of my favorite coffee shops for cappuccino and cake. I gathered from the previous meeting, that Melany enjoyed cappuccino (and anything sweet). She also told me she liked playing cards so I brought a deck along and she showed me how to play a few games. We had a really good time. The café we went to plays some English music so whenever I sang along, she laughed. She thought it was so funny. Go figure. She’s 11.

mel and me

I like Melany. When we spend one on one time together, it’s really fun for me. Being a big sister reminds me to be patient. It also shows me a lot about how friendship takes time. The best thing about being a big sister is having someone look up to you!!

I enjoy hearing Melany’s stories. Sometimes she complains about having to cook or look after her little brother but those are very typical things for an older sister to do here. She’s also not a big fan of school right now but I know she loves reading and plan to reinforce that by giving her a few of my favorite books to read. She hasn’t told me anything shocking during our time together and I don’t think she will. She lives a pretty “normal life” for an 11-year old Bolivian girl.

I feel honored to share a few hours with Melany every few weeks. I think the time has been good for the both of us. And even though its hard for me, I keep reminding myself I don’t have “to do” anything special when we’re together. Just listen to her share, ask questions that might prompt her to share, and then enjoy her stories and experiences. Every once in a while I encourage her to ask me questions and sometimes my answers (and her follow up questions) leads us to a good conversation.

My goal is to find Melany a “big sister” who lives here so she still has a support system even when I’m gone. I already have someone in mind (a former Franciscan lay missioner who permanently lives here) and am looking forward to introducing them and knowing Melany will always have someone outside of the family she can chat with and talk to.

Life is good. Paz y bien from Cochabamba!