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Panchita celebrating her 101th birthday at Hogar San José in Cochabamba, Bolivia.

I live for days like today — days where my heart is completely content, overflowing with joy, gratitude and happy exhaustion. Days where I cannot stop smiling. Days where I know that I’m exactly where I’m meant to be.

Amalia passed away during the pandemic (photo taken August 2019).

You see, today was the first day in 18 months that I was able to visit my abuelitas in Hogar San José. Eighteen months—it has felt like eternity, honestly.

Back when there was first talk of COVID-19, the Little Sisters of the Abandoned Elderly, who run this hogar (home) in Cochabamba, Bolivia, wasted no time in closing their doors to all outsiders for the safety of the residents. I understood and agreed with the decision, but I was still heartbroken. One day everything was normal, and the next I was cut off from my abuelas.

Shortly after, my other ministry here, La Casa de los Niños, had to shut their doors too, as COVID had hit the community and school hard. I was cut off from everything and everyone that I loved almost instantaneously.

After many months of adapting to a temporary ministry (of providing daily meals to the hungry) and a different way of life, things finally began to slowly open up in January. I moved into a house in La Casa de los Niños and began working again in the school, where I also started a reading program. I was ecstatic to say the least: I was finally able to see my kiddos and do what I loved!

However, Hogar San José remained closed to all visitors. Until today, that is, 18 months later. I was nervous for today, afraid that my abuelitas wouldn’t remember me; and also afraid that I was going to have to face the reality of my favorite abuela, Amalia’s death.

Yet all the fear seemed to evaporate the moment I walked through the doors. The excitement on their faces when they saw me, the questions and updates, the mutual joy. It all felt like Christmas morning.

We celebrated Panchita, who turned 101 years old, by sharing cake and swapping stories of her feistiness. Panchita certainly lives by her own rules, often grumbling or yelling about something as she helps with daily chores. She has these moments of clarity, though, where she is calm and her personality shines through as bright as the sun. In these moments, she’ll look at me with kind eyes and the biggest smile.

Cortney at Hogar San José_with Nimia

I live for these moments — the moments where we are present to each other and laugh about nothing. I loved being able to celebrate all of her today. I loved everything about today. I have missed my abuelas deeply, and I am unbelievably thankful that I am now able to visit again on Sundays.

Amalia may not have been there physically, but I felt assured as I walked past her room. I felt at peace, and I know she felt it from somewhere else too.

 

Cortney Freshwater Cortney Freshwater
Cortney Freshwater works in special education at La Casa de Los Niños and accompanies elderly people at Hogar San José in Cochabamba, Bolivia.