Backtrack to March 2008: I'm sitting inside a women's hospital, in between two patients, doing arts and crafts. This is the kind of hospital where once you're inside, you're locked in. When you want to leave, you are escorted out, the chains on the the heavy metal doors unlocked... and only then can you go through. This is the kind of hospital where women who may not have even been sick, were checked in. They were women who longed for interaction and companionship... women who were likely abandoned, left to experience the rest of their lives within hospital walls.
When I first heard that I was going to be placed here, I freaked out. Our program advisor mentioned it being along the lines of psychiatric hospital. There was a lot of built up apprehension and unease on my end... But as soon as I walked through those doors, it was a different story.
I sat in between two women named Ora. We were gluing lace hearts onto pieces of foam paper and decorating them. They told me to make a wish because apparently in Russian tradition, its good luck to sit in between two people with the same name. There was another woman who asked me to make her heart for her because she wasn't able to do it on her own. Once it was finished, I handed it over to her and her face lit up with a smile. She gave it to her doctor and kept telling our translator to tell me how much she loved it. She even gave me a kiss on the cheek. I'll never forget this moment. I'll never forget her smile.
During orientation, one of the first things our program advisor told our group was to not be offended if no one smiled at you. She said it's really normal for Russian people to not smile when you're first introduced. She said, "It's not that they don't like you, it's just that you haven't given them a reason to smile." (Profound thought, given American/Californian culture, where we smile at strangers when we pass them by. Courtesy? Maybe.)
It turns out, our program was the only one that visited the women at this hospital. And these visits were seldom. So it shouldn't have been surprising to see the women bringing out older crafts that were done by former volunteers, and "fixing" them to look good again. But, it was. Maybe the surprising thing was that these visits meant so much to the women... Women who were full of love of people, and probably just wanted to feel that back. I realized that even if we were there temporarily, that moment meant the world to them. Seeing a smile on their faces assured me that even for that brief time, we made helped make their day a little brighter. People may believe otherwise, but this particular experience helped me see that even if it's just one single smile on one person's face, it counts. The little things speak volumes when it comes to helping people.