Best Buddies Ecuador was launched in 2005 as a project of Fundación General Ecuatoriana in Quito, Ecuador. Natalí Ortiz is a passionate Best Buddies volunteer and this is her story about the friendship she has developed with her buddy, Karen.
Most societies around the world often ostracize those people who are physically or mentally somehow different. They are separated from those who are regarded as “normal.” We’re not used to trying to understand those who are not like us. Many times the reason is fear, but also because we are selfish and prefer remaining in our own bubble. People usually see individuals who have disabilities in 3 distinct ways: with pity, tenderness, or although it sounds horrible, with disgust.
The scientific and medical explanation of disabilities is not very important to society as a whole. What we can work towards together is to end the way people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are rejected or hidden by their families and their communities by transitioning to a more accepting, and inclusive society. Until recently, people with disabilities were not accepted in Ecuador. Best Buddies along with other foundations, organizations and schools have made advances and are improving the lives of people with intellectual disabilities.
My buddy’s name is Karen, and she has Down syndrome. Before I joined Best Buddies, I already knew Karen from church. We meet every week where I teach Sunday school; we learn about the bible and pray. Karen is special because she does not care if people are watching her. She is completely engaged while she dances and sings – she knows how to have fun. Her attitude has gotten the other girls to love and accept her. Whenever I spend the day or just a few seconds with Karen, the world looks brighter to me.
One Sunday, Karen came to the church happier than usual. She surprised me with Christmas presents, and told me I was her “best friend.” I felt so fulfilled. I think the best Christmas present was not the gifts themselves, but the happiness that Karen expressed when she gave the gifts. I had never seen someone share so much joy and gratitude. I usually prefer to receive a gift instead of giving one, but Karen taught me that it is much more gratifying to give than to receive.
That same Sunday afternoon, with the youth group, we organized a Christmas dinner and I decided to invite Karen to join us. I love being with Karen because she makes me laugh with the things she says and does. During the dinner we took photos. We were all silent and still, waiting for someone to take the picture and suddenly Karen sprung into action saying, “Merry Christmas! Ho! Ho! Ho! Ho!” We were definitely all smiling in that photo!
We had a fun time and ate well. I felt good because my other friends did not treat her with fear or try to take care of her. They treated her as a person and as one of the group. When Karen’s mother came to pick her up, she was so happy and thanked us for including Karen. Then I realized that friendship is always reciprocal. I give my friendship, time and love and she in turn gives her tenderness, innocence and happiness.
It’s so amazing when you allow yourself to expand beyond the limits society dictates, because you discover things you never imagined. When you decide to pop your bubble and meet people who are different from you, you can learn a lot. In the end, you will learn they are not so different.