What is a family? According to Google, the definition of a family is: “A group consisting of parents and children living together in a household.” When I was younger, I believed this was an accurate, true description of a family. Everyone I knew had parents and some had siblings. However, this belief was based on my experiences, not on reality.

Based on Google’s definition, Pedacito de Cielo (the baby home) and Corazon del Pastor (the girls’ home) are not families. There are no parents that live in these houses. And, the children living in the homes are not related. But, after volunteering at both homes for over a year, I know that both homes are families. And each child realizes his or her responsibility to the others.

At Corazon del Pastor, the older girls look after the younger ones like they are of the same blood. When one is hurt or upset, there is always another girl’s shoulder to cry on. Playing is so much better when you have six “sisters” to imagine and create with. There is always someone in the study room to keep you company when you have homework to do. And, best of all, in my opinion, the tias and volunteers get 22 good morning and goodbye hugs and kisses! And, just like any sibling group, there are quarrels and fights. But, at the end of the day, the girls are a family–they support and love each other unconditionally. They understand that they have many sisters to share life with.

At Pedacitio del Cielo, the older ones help the little ones and teach them important lessons–how “to cook,” how “to read,” and how “to shop.” Birthday celebrations are a big deal–each child wears dress clothes and knows exactly whose big day it is. The big milestones-first steps and first words-are celebrated by all. The littlest ones are sometimes even fed by the older ones. The staff of Pedacito make sure all the kids understand and appreciate that they are all brothers and sisters.

After my time in Bolivia and working with Ninos con Valor, I have come to realize that one cannot simply define a family by the members, but by the love and connection between the people within the group. The children of Ninos con Valor may not have the same mother and father, and may not even come from the same place, but they all share a connection and have immense love for each other. Many of the children have similar pasts, and from this negative has come something positive–a special bond that will last forever and siblings who will always have your back . This is what defines a family.