An often-quoted bit of wisdom is to “know your ‘why.'” That is, know your reason for what you’re doing. That could mean knowing your reason for getting up and going to work every morning at 9 a.m. for example. It means knowing your end-goal, and how your daily actions will help you get there. This reason, our “why,” is our motivation for seeing difficult things through. Often, the “why” can drive us to keep putting one foot in front of the other when the going gets tough.

Everytime I tell someone I’m planning a trip to Colombia, the follow-up question I’m usually asked is, “Why?” And today, I was given another reminder of my “why” for returning to this wonderful country.

I write this on Friday night, just two days away from the end of our trip. This week, we completed a number of projects in Caldas, Colombia at Hogar de Christo, the new children’s home we have been helping build. Today, we put the finishing touches on the newly-painted buildings, then packed up to leave Caldas. In preparation for our departure from Colombia, we returned to the current children’s home in the city of Medellín (the home which serves as a model for the soon-to-open home in Caldas). As soon as we piled off the bus at the home, we were surrounded by dozens of kids chattering in Spanish and excitedly hugging or high-fiving us.

The kids pulled us to the playground, and for an hour (though it seemed much shorter than that due to the fun we were having) we followed them around the playground and soccer field. Each child, excited to have a volunteer following them around, shouted, “Amigo!” We helped them up the monkey bars and clapped when they completed them without falling. We laughed as they shot their soccer balls right past us and into the goal. We cried as they cried, hugging us and asking us not to leave soon. We had the privilege to give them the one-on-one attention that their unfortunate life situations had deprived them of. And it was such a joy to be with them for that. The staff at the Medellín children’s home do an amazing job of caring for these children, but they all crave that level of attention that simply cannot be offered to them in the same way it is offered to most children.

After playtime, it was time for dinner. Feeding 140 kids is no small task, and we ate a basic meal of rice, beans, and a small piece of ham. The ham was an unexpected, expensive surprise bought in honor of our stay at the home.

Later that night, I went to take a shower in our volunteer dormitory and wash the paint off me from the day’s work in Caldas. The showers at this children’s home are a different kind of cold. The water is icy mountain water that flows from a pipe in the wall, and there is no hot water knob. It was a stark reminder of the lack of comforts the children here face on a daily basis.

In two days, I will return home to my chocolate milkshakes, truck, hot showers, and extended family. The children here in Medellín don’t have that luxury. They eat rice. They don’t have hot showers, and most of them can’t/won’t return to their families. This is their home. And they are the lucky ones, as thousands of other children in Colombia face war, poverty, hunger, disease, abuse, natural disasters, and trafficking.

The 140 children of this home have the sweetest hearts of anyone I know, and they are my “why.” We came back to Medellín to help in the process of opening the new home in Caldas. The sooner that home is built, the sooner another 160 children can be brought off the streets and into a place where they are loved, cared for, and fed. The sooner 160 lives can be impacted for the better. What an honor it has been this week to serve these sweet children. I look forward to the day, soon, when the Caldas home is opened.