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Making Wishes Come True: SLU-Madrid Volunteers Connect with Children in Puertollano (Ciudad Real)

by Katie Gortz on 11/21/2019

Ten student volunteers traveled to the village of Puertollano (Ciudad Real) for the third semiannual weekend of service, cultural exchange and memory-making with the local children.

Together with Hamish Binns, modern languages program coordinator, the SLU-Madrid student volunteers offered a weekend-long program of English-teaching activities for 50 children who attend C.E.I.P. Menéndez Pelayo, the local public pre-school and primary school. The families of these children paid five euros each, as able, to participate. The money collected was donated to Javi, a 17-year old with cerebral palsy, to help his family pay for a specialized walking frame to assist with his independent mobility.

Puertollano service weekend

At C.E.I.P. Menéndez Pelayo, students express their wishes by writing them on leaves that are displayed on a “wish tree” painted on the wall in the entryway to the school. Over the course of the service weekend, volunteers from SLU-Madrid and the local community in Puertollano made five of these wishes come true. Above, volunteers pose with paper apples with printed texts for the completed wishes: a more beautiful school, a school with painted murals, painted games on the floors, a school with flowers and colorful chairs. These apples will be hung on the tree behind them, which is for completed wishes.

Student volunteers included Rose Chancy, Ava Thors, Ilyssa Ottto and Monica Carroll, who had participated in previous service weekends in Puertollano and were eager to return and renew their friendships with the children. Other volunteers, such as Mia Seffar, Jemma Kim, Ellie Brummell, Luca Zocche, Christina Afonso and Olivia Blasi attended for the first time.

Seffar, a SLU-Madrid junior who is originally from Morocco, shares her reflection of the experience:

“If you’re ever traveling on the AVE line that connects Madrid to Seville, your train might make a stop in the pueblo of Puertollano. At first glance, the sleepy town might not seem like much, but if you happen to hop off and wander around, you may stumble upon calle Palomar, home to a colegio bursting with life. Passing by, you may merely peer through the gates and see children playing hopscotch or snakes and ladders in the courtyard. And if you decide to venture on inside, you’ll notice various hanging plants potted in recycled bottles arranged along the sides of the building. A kid might pull you aside and show you the fish they painted on the ocean floor which surrounds their brightly colored game of hopscotch. Another might steal you away to show you the snake or ladder they painted with their friends from Madrid: Monica, Rose and Ava. A little girl will probably tug at your sleeve and point towards a hanging plant that Ilyssa and Olivia helped her pot. Two sisters may run up to you and show you the friendship bracelets they made each other, that Jemma and Mia helped them braid. And if you get them talking they’ll revel in memories of the weekend they spent in November, whether it be running around an escape room with Luca, playing charades with Ellie and Christina, or dancing with their friends while Hamish played his bagpipes. And if you’re lucky enough, someone might lead you inside and show you the “arbol de sueños,” or “tree of wishes,” from which paper branches ending in leaves hang. Some leaves are bare, but others have been written on and list the wishes of the children that have come true so far. A single leaf reads, “To have a more beautiful school,” and amongst many other things, that is what this year’s trip to Puertollano accomplished.

 [I] hope to be able to continue with this meaningful service activity next year!”

Seffar and the other volunteers extend their gratitude to SLU-Madrid for helping fund the venture.