I don’t really remember how it started, but one of the other volunteers had brought a collection of embroidery threads on the trip, and now we were all making friendship bracelets for the students that we were going to have to leave behind in another week. Two weeks in the mountains tutoring grade schoolers in English felt like too much and too little at the same time – too long to spend without getting attached, too short to feel anything but sad to leave them behind – but at least the bracelets felt like compromise enough, something for us to leave them with, something for them to remember us by.
Making the bracelets themselves also quickly developed into an impromptu team bonding activity. Having already spent a week with each other in increasingly closer proximity, everyone had become fast friends, but the bracelets became another form of socialization as we all practiced together and taught each other new patterns. In the evenings after school we would gather at a large picnic table on the balcony of the hostel in the settling dusk, getting to know each other even more, talking about the students to whom the bracelets would be given.
Braiding the bracelets themselves was a mind-numbing, repetitive sort of activity, but the look on our students’ faces as we gave them out each day made it all worth it. It brought us all closer together – not just the volunteers ourselves, but also the students. It functioned as a way for us to say that they mattered to us, that we wouldn’t forget about them even at the end of these two weeks. It left something behind for them to remember us by, a promise that STEP would be back.