THE FIESTA OF A LIFETIME
The night before ending our three week stay in Medellín, we realized that it was also the same night as Valentina’s quinciñera. Valentina was a sweet fourteen-year-old from the orphanage who we had time spent getting to know. We had also watched her practice countless hours performing with her friends to prepare for her big night - her 15th birthday party. Turning fifteen for a young woman in Latin America is a HUGE deal. Friends and family all attend this special night to welcome the young girl into womanhood.
Ryan and I again had the crazy idea of just showing up to the orphanage and surprising the kids + Valentina on this special night. Karina, a lively and always cheerful staff member, had asked us to attend the big event when we were volunteering. However, thinking about our schedule ahead and knowing we would be in Cartagena by the time of the party, we had to politely decline. Now that we knew we wouldn't be leaving until the next morning, we couldn't miss it! Plus, how amazing would it be to attend an event that would hold such prominence in the rest of her life?!
HOW RYAN'S PHOTOGRAPHY SKILLS SAVED THE DAY
When we arrived to the orphanage, we were welcomed with open and arms and huge smiles. Silia, another staff member of JUCUUM, invited us to sit at the very front of the room right next to Valentina’s mom. This was a huge surprise! We were simply ready to crouch in the back wherever we found room. When we saw Enithe, the main “tia”, she looked at us with the brightest eyes of all. She immediately saw Ryan with his camera and literally almost started crying. She told him, “Ryan, is there any way you can take pictures for the event? I have been praying for days for a photographer and God has answered my prayers tonight with you being here.” He, of course, jumped at the opportunity and was officially deemed the photographer of the whole event! We were so stoked that we went and knew how much it would mean to Valentina and everyone there to always have these special photos!
WHAT HAPPENS AT A QUINCEANERA?
Once our emotions settled from such a warm introduction, we realized that this was a LEGIT party. The boys, girls + staff were all dressed in their nicest and most formal white and black attire. The whole downstairs was decked out with blue and black decorations hanging from every inch of the ceiling. A huge picture of Valentina displayed next to the massive cake and small appetizers lay on the center table just waiting to be munched on. Numerous chairs filled with all of the kids, family and friends surrounded a space where there would be dances, singing performances, and many blessings given to Valentina from the most important individuals in her life.
TRADITIONS OF A QUINCEANERA
We watched as Valentina lit up and danced her way to the center of the room with her closest friends. She wore a brightly jeweled blue dress that took up most of the performance area. Later on in the night, Enithe explained to us that every year a girl has her quincinera (or turns fifteen), a donor gives a certain amount of money for the event (for food, the dress, decorations, etc). This whole celebration would not have been possible without this donor.
THE MOST PRECIOUS GIFTS AT THE PARTY
All the young girls of the orphanage performed a fun dance for the birthday girl. The boys did a separate dance, as well. I don’t think I stopped smiling the entire night. Some of the older staff sang beautiful melodies and played various instruments for her. There was the handing down of a baby girl doll from Valentina to another young girl symbolizing leaving Valentina’s childhood behind and taking her newest steps in becoming a woman. The best of all, though, were the words + blessings that her extended family of relatives, friends, and elders shared with her throughout the evening welcoming her into a newly defined and purpose-driven stage in her life. It was inspiring and humbling to see how much love surrounded this young woman on this night.
By the end of the night, we were able to download every video and picture from the party on Enithe’s computer, give Valentine her birthday present, and say our goodbyes to everyone for the final time. We knew God put a call on our hearts to go back to that party for a reason and we are so much more grateful for what we were able to give than what we could ever receive. Happy Quincinera, Valentina! You are so loved.