Hello! My name is Naomi Roter (Class of ‘20) and I am from Albany, NY. I am a sociology major and Spanish minor at Skidmore College, and this summer I volunteered in Merida, Mexico working with children with special needs. The volunteer organization IVHQ, based in New Zealand, offers numerous volunteer sites around the world, but I decided on Merida to practice my Spanish, and to learn about Mexican culture.
My volunteer placement was at the Centro de Rehabilitación e Inclusión Infantil Teletón (CRIT), a non-profit chain providing therapies for low income children with special needs. Care ranged from aqua therapy to the use of machines that assist in walking. Right now, there are over 20 CRITs in Mexico, providing therapies for children up through age 18.
Since the state of Yucatan only has two CRIT locations (Merida and Cancun), families had to travel so their child could receive therapy. My job at the hospital was bringing out toys and games to play with the patients, and with siblings who often had to be brought along, while they waited for appointments.
The CRIT building inside and out was extremely colorful, each side painted a different vibrant color of the rainbow, creating a joyous space. Everyone was extremely welcoming and friendly, constantly offering smiles, hugs, and kisses on the cheek (a typical greeting). CRIT quickly became a place I was excited to volunteer.
Although kids came with wheelchairs, walkers, or other physical/mental challenges, I never asked about their disabilities. It was easy to see them as a person to get to know without their disability in the forefront. Instead, I learned of their big personalities, love, and happiness.
I quickly discovered my job was not just to play with the children, it also included getting to know the parents. Taking time to do things for them, such as making origami frogs or teaching them how to do it, put a smile on their faces. I appreciated the challenges/sacrifices they face/make as the parents of children with special needs, so I wanted to give something back in return.
After falling in love with CRIT as an organization, I was heartbroken to learn of the state’s cuts in their funding resulting in the firing of over 60 staff. CRIT would only be left with about 20 doctors, meaning that the children would receive therapy less frequently. On my last day at CRIT, all the families gathered in the lobby and clapped as the departing doctors and staff left. A mariachi band performed, making the experience more emotional for everyone.
I am thankful for Skidmore’s Summer Funded Experience award for allowing me this adventure, a happy/sad one. From Mexican and Mayan cultures to natural wonders to CRIT, I had an unforgettable summer. Although I wish I could give CRIT billions of dollars to keep their doctors and provide regular therapies, I know I made an impact, even if it was small. I will continue using my Spanish studying abroad in Spain and hopefully in work post graduation. I am still unsure what I want to do for work long term, but CRIT taught me that a welcoming, caring, loving, and fun environment is the place for me. I can not wait for the day I go back.