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Bremely Berganza - PLC PDF Print E-mail

My PLC Story

Ever since I can remember, I’ve had a passion for working with children and youth—especially those in need of a positive role model or just someone to look up to in general. My name is Bremely Berganza, and I am currently 21 years-old.

Here, in Kitchener, Ontario where I’m currently residing, I’ve volunteered as a mentor for adolescents for the Youth Excellence Program (Y.E.S.) and have been employed by the City of Kitchener since 2007 as a Youth Drop-In leader. To be honest, “Freedom Writers,” an inspirational movie that I’m sure the majority of us have seen was MY inspiration. I remember watching that movie when it first came out and thinking, “I want to be like Miss G. I want to make a difference in an adolescents life, I want to say to them, ‘Yes you can, you can do it!’ when the rest of the world is screaming, ‘No you can’t!’”

In October of 2009, a co-worker of mine mentioned that she was going to be a leader for the India team for a Global Youth Network volunteer trip. This was her second Global trip and I couldn’t help but ask her for details. She sat me down and told me everything about her experience in Peru the previous year, and I remember the huge smile she had on her face throughout her entire recollection. I had always dreamed of doing a missions trip of some sort, but to me it just seemed impossible for the opportunity to arise. That’s when she told me that Global Youth Network was holding a workshop the following week. I went to the workshop—heard stories from previous years and I just KNEW that this was for me.

Why Kosovo and Macedonia you might ask? Well, my parents are from Guatemala. My siblings and I were born in Canada, but we have lived in Guatemala for months at a time. The other trips being offered to the Kitchener/Waterloo region were to El Salvador, Peru, India, and Kosovo and Macedonia. To me, a trip to El Salvador (Guatemala’s neighbour) and Peru would hit too close to home.

I wanted to experience something different—I wanted to break out of my comfort zone—see the living conditions and experience the culture of a part of the world different than my Canadian/Guatemalan side. Kosovo and Macedonia was what my heart was set on.

The Plemetina Learning Center. I don’t even know where to begin or how to express how much I loved volunteering at this center. It’s funny because I was looking through our “welcome package” that was given to us by our volunteer coordinator upon arriving to Kosovo. He had graciously taken it upon himself to designate us learning centers. I’m not sure why, but our team leaders felt that it’d be best if they were the ones to assign us learning centers—I guess because they felt they knew our personalities, strengths and weaknesses a little better, thus had a more clear idea of who would fit where best. I was initially assigned to the Shtime Learning Center, and I thank God for giving me the opportunity to volunteer at the Plemetina Learning Center—it’s like I was MEANT to be at PLC. Note, I am more than positive that I would have fallen in love with Shtime had I volunteered there, don’t get me wrong.

I remember meeting the Plemetina coordinator, Driton Berisa—a lovely Roma man. Leah, Alaina and I were so excited to see our center and meet all the kids. I remember pulling up in the taxi to the PLC and just thinking, “This is going to be my home for the next few weeks.” You see, there’s something about the PLC. You step onto that driveway and you instantly feel at home. We hadn’t even gotten out of the cab yet and already the tutours were welcoming us with their warm smiles.

Nothing says “welcome” like a warm cup of Turkish coffee. I miss the Turkish coffee that they’d give me every morning. Nenad, one of the tutours even taught me how to make a perfect cup of coffee!

Now, regardless of what anyone says, it took us a while to get the children to warm up to us. Every day, the tutours go pick up the afternoon group of children by foot. Leah, Alaina and I were more than ecstatic to do so! Off we went. I remember the Kurta sisters stepping out of their humble home, Adrijana (who eventually won my heart over), Suada, and Dzilja. At first they were a little scared to hold my hand, but I somehow managed to get them to do so.

We were so happy to see our kids! I was so excited to get started—to become their friend, to play with them, to help them with their homework! I ended up staying in Nenad’s (a tutour) class. It was my first day in the classroom with them. They began speaking in Serbian to each other, to Nenad, they would look at me, say something, say something to me, and I would look back at them with what I suppose was a blank stare. I HAD NO CLUE WHAT THEY WERE SAYING! Serbian is nothing like English or Spanish… for the first time in my life, I was experiencing a language barrier. I speak English, so I’ve never experienced that in Canada, and I also speak Spanish, thus never experiencing a language-barrier in Guatemala either. The children became so frustrated with me. Two girls in particular, Adrijana Kurta and Neksira, would look at me and say something, I would obviously shrug my shoulders and say, “huh?” and they would start waving their arms in the air and pointing at me and yelling things to Nenad. Now, I’m no expert, and Nenad never did tell me what they were saying, but I’m pretty sure they were saying I was useless. Don’t worry, the story gets better.

I was a little upset going home that day. I felt like I hadn’t made any progress with the children and I was surprised because I can honestly say that up until that day, I had never had a hard time getting children and youth to like me. I was so frustrated with the language barrier; I wished that I could magically become fluent in Serbian. That’s when it dawned on: my parents in Canada experience this on a daily basis. Immigrants from all across the world experience a language barrier on a daily basis. I was finally coming to understand what my parents went through in Canada. It was at that moment that I said to myself, “Do something about it; find a way to communicate with these kids.” So I did.

The following day Nenad left me alone with the class. Here I am, sitting with 10 kids. WHAT DO I DO? I had no other option; I stood up and said, “Macarena?” And they said, “Macarena?” And I began to sing the song and do the dance. They loved it! They LOVED THE MACARENA! And soon, they were all standing up learning the moves to the Macarena. Nenad walked into the room, and just smiled. It felt like one of those smiles that said, “I knew you could do it.” After the Macarena episode, it was smooth sailing. The girls would argue over who would sit next to me, who would hold my hand.

I was amazed at how I could communicate with them through simple hand gestures and facial expressions—it’s truly AMAZING! They offered to teach me how to count from one to ten in Roma and Serbian, and in return, I taught them how to count in Spanish. As soon as they would see me, they would run up to me saying, “SPANSKI SPANSKI, uno, dos, tres, cuatro, cinco, seis, siete, ocho, nueve, diez.” They even asked me to write them out in their school work books! When we’d be sitting in class, they would just look at me and smile—I wish I knew what they were thinking.

What made this experience so wonderful is that my teammates and I were able to establish relationships with our contacts there. Selim, one of the tutours there, would call me “hermanita,” Spanish for sister, and he would always say, “te quiero mucho hermanita!” (I love you a lot little sister). Valjbona became a sister to me as well. We would talk about the Spanish soap operas that everyone knows and loves. At a bonfire that the PLC staff organized for the entire Kosovo/Macedonia team, I found out that Nikson was only 16 years old. I was so surprised because I thought he was at least 20, so I said, “You’re a baby!” and ever since then, his nickname became “BEBE #1” and I in return became “BEBA.” Agron would always run into the office yelling and screaming just to get our attention, so I began calling him, “Budalo.” Every time we’d see him we’d yell, “BUDALOOO.” It was a sign of our affection towards him. Faton—the one thing that I’ll never forget with Faton, was one morning, he was teaching the kids about the war in Kosovo/Serbia. I knew he was educating them on the war because he was drawing pictures of airplanes and bombs coming down on houses—the children’s eyes grew big in amazement and shock. I didn’t know if he wanted me to know about his experience during the war, so I didn’t ask. After he was done speaking to the children, he turned to me, and told me how the war affected his family. That is one thing that I’ll never forget and I felt honoured that he would confide in me. Turkijan! Turkijan is a man of a few words, a little more shy than the rest of the staff, but he has a huge heart. He absolutely adores what he does, and his quiet nature will forever stay with me. Driton, aka, boss. Driton, the PLC coordinator was always running in and out of the office with a million and one things to do, but when he’s able to catch a break, he is a pleasure to sit with and chat. Driton has a big heart, and he wears it on his sleeve. Finally, Nenad. Nenad became more than a friend, he became a brother. Nenad is probably one of the most hospitable human-beings I have ever met. Anything we needed, he was there. This 19-year old boy was truly an inspiration to my life, and I hope he realizes how greatly he impacted it. Every single tutour here at the PLC inspired me in one way or another. See, the thing is, PLC not only has the most amazing kids, it has the most amazing staff.

I feel that children can sense who genuinely cares about them. These children won my heart over. Every, single one of them. Our departure from Kosovo was delayed due to a VISA issue. I remember thinking we’d leave on the Tuesday, so I had mentally prepared myself for a good-bye that I’d deliver on the Monday. Nenad actually asked me to deliver a speech to the children and I remember saying, “Nenad I can’t, I’ll cry, I don’t want them to see me cry!” But Nenad, stubborn as always, insisted. So here I was, all the children sitting in a “kruga” (circle) around me… my speech when a little bit like this (with Nenad translating of course):

“Hi guys! As you all know, I live in Canada. Canada is far, far away from Kosovo. Sadly, tomorrow will be my last day here. Soon, I will have to go back to Canada. But I just want you guys to know that, even though Canada is far away, and I’ll be far away, all of you, every single one of you will forever be in my heart *points to heart* (at this point I’m starting to tear up). I’m going to miss you guys so much. But I hope that ONE DAY, I can come back and see all your beautiful faces. I promise that I will come back, I don’t know when exactly, but I will be back. And I want you guys to go to school, to get an education, because when I come back, I want to see doctors, and teachers, and lawyers, because I know you’re all very smart—“

By now, I was balling my eyes out, and they didn’t even let me finish my speech—they just came running up to me and hugging me. I remember Neksira and Adrijana, the two girls who on that first day gave me such a hard time, looking at me with their glossy eyes. They wiped away my tears that day, and just writing this, my eyes become teary. I will never forget that day and I thank Nenad for pushing me to give that speech.

Oh, I missed one thing. I taught all the boys how to whistle by putting a piece of grass in between their thumbs and blowing on it. I know this doesn’t seem like a big deal, BUT, they had never seen anything like it before—to them is was amazing! And I can’t help but think, that one day, they’ll be doing it while playing at school or on the street and someone will say, “Hey, who taught you how to do that?” and they’ll say, “The Canadian girl did.” In that sense, I’ll forever be in their memories as well.

On our last day at the PLC, I bought chocolate for all the kids. At the end of their class, before leaving to go home, I gave them all their chocolate bars. They looked so happy! Their eyes just glowed. And it was so hard to say good bye to each group, because part of me can’t help but wonder, what will become of that child’s life? We took tons of pictures that last day—kids LOVE pictures, that’s for sure.

Adrijana Kurta, I previously mentioned her, there was just something special about that girl. One day, while I was conversing with Nenad, he said, “You know, Adrijana really loves you Bremely. All the kids love you. They always ask about you, they say they want you to teach them. Adrijana usually doesn’t like anyone. It took me 3 years to get me where I am with her today, and you did it in weeks.” Hearing those words—I can’t even describe how that made me feel. As a special present to Adrijana, I developed a picture of us and gave it to her when we were dropping her off at her home. I pulled it out from under my shirt because I had been hiding it! She knew I was hiding something and kept saying “SLIKA, SLIKA!” (picture, picture), but I just pretended I had no idea what she was talking about. When I pulled out that picture, and she saw that it was a picture of her and I, her eyes grew big and a giant smile came over her face. I asked Nenad to translate what I had written on the back of the picture. I told her she was my little sister and to take extra good care of that photo. I remember her running off and yelling, “MAMA! MAMA!” The first thing she did was show her mother.

Saying good bye to the staff was so difficult, but we all managed to add each other on facebook so part of me knew that we’d keep in touch. Like I mentioned before, the hardest part was saying good bye to these amazing, beautiful and intelligent children. What will become of them? If God allows me to visit Plemetina next summer, will they still be there?

The VISA situation was still under-going. My teammates and I refused to return to our learning centers because we had already said our good-byes and didn’t think it was fair to the children to have to do it again. The children leave the center at around 3:45pm, so our leaders decided that the entire group, the 12 of us, would go to PLC at 5pm to help re-paint the center. We arrive to the PLC, the cab is pulling in, and to my surprise, I see children. I just remember thinking, “Oh no! How am I going to say bye to them again, I can’t do it! I’m gonna break down and start crying, I won’t want to let them go, I can’t!” I step out the taxi and about 5 of the younger girls run up to me yelling, “BREMELY CREMELY” (that was the nickname that all the children would use for me). It turns out that there was a parent-teacher meeting that day. I remember thinking, “Adrijana’s going to find out that I’m here and she’s going to come. I just know it!” A few minutes later, Adrijana comes running into the field with her younger sister Suada. One of the children had run to her home to tell her I was back! They both ran into my arms yelling, “Bremely Cremely, Bremely Cremely!” and I spun them around and squeezed them tight in my arms. Eventually, the meeting was over and it was time for them to go home. The rest of my team was already inside painting, and I was about to hug them one last time and say good-bye when Nenad said, “They want you to walk home with them.” I said, “I want to too, but I can’t, we’re not supposed to leave on our own, we’ll get in trouble, it’s part of Global’s rules.” Nenad said, “Go on, if your teammates ask where you are, I’ll make something up, you’ll be safe with them.” I smiled at him and said, “Thank you.”

Now, I know you’re not supposed to break the rules, but the story gets better, this was the best decision I made on the entire trip.

We’re walking down the road, Adrijana’s mother, Suad (her brother), Adrijana, Suada (her younger sister) and Dzilja (her youngest sister). They’re holding my hands, we’re being silly, and her mother says, “Cafe?” I look at her and say, “I’m sorry, I don’t understand.” Her mother repeats it. It’s funny, now that I think of it, I’m just like, “How did I not understand what she was saying!?” Suad and Adrijana say, “Cafe?” and with their hands make a drinking movement. I say, “OHHH, coffee? Yes, yes of course!” They invited me into their humble home for coffee. I get to their home, humble as it is, but boy, was it ever clean. That’s how it is in Guatemala too. You see people living in their humble homes, just meeting their basic needs, but they make sure to keep it as clean as possible. I walk inside, and there I see a baby on the floor—Adrijan’s daughter (Adrijan is Adrijana’s oldest brother who works at the PLC as well, a lovely soul he is!). I pick up the baby, the most gorgeous baby with the most beautiful eyes. Adrijan’s wife and Adrijana’s mother quickly begin making some delicious Turkish coffee. I sit on the couch with the baby and Suad, Adrijana, Suada, Dzilja, and a cousin of theirs all make a circle around me and just watch me. I could be completely wrong, but I just felt that they were so honoured to have me in their home—it’s as though it was a privilege for them. I made conversation with them, and to be honest, I don’t even know how, but we shared laughs and giggles. I had been there for a while and figured I should get going because sooner or later, my team would realize I was missing. I got up, thanked them for the wonderful coffee and said “Volim te” (I love you) to every single one of them. I hugged every single one of them. I have a bracelet. A W.W.J.D. (What Would Jesus Do?) bracelet. It’s my favourite bracelet in the entire world and I never take it off. Before leaving, I looked at my bracelet, and thought, “Maybe it’s time it gets a new owner.” I put it on Adrijana’s wrist. She looked at me like, “No, it’s okay, I feel bad, you keep it, it’s yours.” And I looked at her like, “No. I want you to have it, it’s yours now.” I gave them all one last hug and they walked me to the main street. As I walked away and would turn my head every two seconds, I’d see Suad, Adrijana, Suada, Dzilja, and their cousin waving their little hands followed by Dzilja’s, “ciaooo!” I would wave back and yell, “ciaooo!” Three year-old Dzilja kept yelling “ciaooo!” until I was so far away that she was just a tiny spec.

That was the most touching experience that I had on the entire trip.

What sets PLC apart? Why does PLC need your support?

This center is the one place where these children are not discriminated against. Here, they are integrated and motivated to get an education and break the cycle of poverty and unemployment that they’ve been born into. Here, they receive the one-on-one support they deserve from the tutours. Here, they feel comfortable enough to ask questions that they do not dare ask in class out of fear of being ridiculed by their professors and peers. Here, they are taught the language that they need to speak fluently in order to become successful in the careers they choose to persue. These children are bold and daring—all they lack are the resources to succeed.

To say that the three weeks I spent in the Plemetina Learning Center were amazing is an understatement. I would have loved to summarize this entire write-up into one page, but it is impossible. To think, that what I have written this far, can’t even encompass my entire experience. At the PLC, children are offered an education, inclusion, hot meals, friendships, role models, smiles, and most importantly, MOTIVATION—motivation to strive to achieve their goals.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. It was wonderful to sit here and reminisce on the experience of a life-time.

Bremely Berganza