I'm not sure how to start explaining the orphanage. We took an old ferry across the river and disembarked into a dirtier, poorer world than even the one I usually experience in my city. I walked up the hill and around the bend surrounded by ducks, chickens, roosters, and dilapidated buildings. As we passed through the gate, I could see a brightly colored large play-set and was relieved to think the children were better cared for than I expected. We tried to see the infants and toddlers first, but were told they were sleeping. So we left the first building and my idea about the children receiving good care vanished.
We walked around back of the first building to the second. This other building was painted red and yellow, except for half of the top floor. It was painted white and metal bars enclosed all of the windows and balcony. From it, three or four older children flung their arms about wildly as they shouted unintelligible welcomes. All of these children suffered from Downs or cerebral palsy, among other ailments. These were the "other" children, tucked away from sight and contact. We passed through the metal gate which barred them into five rooms. Their ages ranged from infancy to about fourteen. One infant had severe brain damage and had recently started having seizures. His eyes rolled back and forth as he remained unresponsive when held. All of the children just wanted to be held and touched, even the shy older boys eventually warmed up. All of the children had dry snot crusted to their faces. A two year old boy from this part of the orphanage died last month. His short life was spent tied to a toilet-chair because there were not enough workers or diapers to meet his needs. Others are spending the entirety of their developmental years in this same predicament, including the little boy with seizures.
Two rays of sunlight shine in this section of the orphanage. The first is a fourteen year old girl with severe cerebral palsy who knows the Son. Someone once shared with her and she believes. Now it is her mission to love every child she lives with. I am often prone to exaggeration, but I have never met someone like her. She has a difficult time speaking herself, but she works to translate for the other children, putting their grunts and groans into words. She has started to learn sign language so she can translate for the deaf girl. Her hands struggle to move as she wills, but she desires to serve her friend and trains them to speak a language none of the workers know, even with their motor skills fully intact. She is the mother for the five rooms of children and the Son is with her. His hand is upon her life and He uses her to make the warmth of His heart felt amongst the cold darkness within the metal bars.
The second light is a young woman from the city who has come to serve these children with education. Special needs education is unheard of in this country, but she felt a burden for this kind of work and found a pioneering couple in the city who could train her. The children love her and she loves them. She given up money, comfort, and the approval of others in order to engage these children's minds. Her love for the Lord radiates through her as she holds the children, listening to their stories, giving the attention for which they starve.
After we sat with these children, we ate lunch and then went to work cleaning a room full of physical therapy equipment. A large room full of good and useful things to aid the children sits unused since there are so few people to help the children, and of those, most do not understand how to help the children train their muscles with the equipment. The windows were left open in the room and a layer of soot from the city's pollution coated the play mats, exercise tables, cribs, etc. We swept and then mopped three times before the floors started to look clean. The orphanage has a wealth of equipment, but a poverty of people and so the room is left mostly untouched.
The day was almost finished, but first we returned to the infants and toddlers who reside in the nicer, first building. These children at least have the possibility of adoption being deemed more acceptable and less handicapped. I expected to find happy and content children who do not feel immediate need. I was mistaken. We set foot inside their rooms and were immediately surrounded by about fifteen toddlers who were all desperate to be touched, starved for attention. Some of them were soon wound up with energy. People! People who will throw us in the air, tickle us, and play games! Others were quiet and content to simply lie in our laps being touched and held.
Even though most of these children are not severely handicapped, I realized they are not all well. One precious little boy was sitting in a pile of blankets in a box. I laughed and commented on how cute he was and then someone told me he probably cannot walk and this is a way for him to get out of his crib when there is no one to care for him. The only infant in the room is sound asleep. He has a heart problem and therefore no one will adopt him - only perfect babies find a home. I found one little girl who seemed about two years old and looked forlorn. She let me pick her up easily, but would not look me in the face when I did so. I tried to make her laugh, pet her hair, hugged her, but she was despondent. Holding her, I sat down with the others among the rows of cribs and held her for a long time, stroking her hair, her hand. I believed she was content to sit with me and she even snuggled a little closer to me, but I never witnessed emotion in her face.
Maybe these are the "acceptable" children, but they are suffering from their own brokenness. They too are neglected and there are barriers beyond the physical which prevent them from receiving a home. Most of the children are girls, perfect and beautiful, but simply not the gender of their parents choosing. One little girl is particularly lovely and the woman who brought us to the orphanage lamented that her paperwork has not been released. Usually paperwork in order is all that such a lovely girl would need to find a home, but somehow it never seems to come together. And the older she gets, the harder it will be.
We left the orphanage and on the boat ride back across the river, I started talking about the day to my friend who took us. She has seen many horrible things within the orphanages in our city. Most of the orphanages are closed and secretive to foreigners, only putting the best foot forward when they do open up. But she has stumbled across things which can only be summed up as the implementation of survival of the fittest amongst the very weakest in society. She explains that maybe the worst of the atrocities are fading away, but the philosophy remains strong. Why would you provide good care for a child with cerebral palsy if she will never carry her own weight in society? Resources are limited, so limit those who will require use of the resources.
Forgive us, Father. Forgive us for our arrogance when we deny you and plan society on our own. Forgive us for treading on those in whom you delight. Forgive us our pride for assuming the weak are helpless, for forgetting that you are calling them to yourself as much as any of us. Forgive us, forgive us, forgive us.