Pulling through the gate, it was as though we were entering a fortress. Surrounded by high walls and a large gate, the concrete two story building with broken glass windows covered in faded paint was an unwelcome scene. As we pulled the van up, a group of boys emerged from behind the concrete corridor to see who had arrived. They watching closely as we walked into the building. What used to be bright paint of teal and yellow was now distressed. Not a sound was being made. The place was cold. My heart began to feel heavy. We walked up the steps to the second floor. We made our way to a door with a small glass window.
Never Forgotten Faces
What could have been said to me before walking through that door would have never prepared my heart for the weight I was about to endure.
The room smelled of urine as a small breeze from the air conditioner above brushed my skin. With very little light, the room was quiet. Twenty five cribs all lined in rows, no blankets, no sheets, thin mattresses were filled with newborn babies. Babies in stained onesies laid with their eyes looking above. I looked to my right, hoping to turn my head away to then only see a boy with big brown eyes, a stomach enlarged sitting up staring me in the face. My eyes began to fill with water. “Deep breaths Kristina” I thought to myself. “Just take a deep breath.” Without hesitation Allison picked up one of the newborn girls. Only months old she opened her eyes as the hands of Allison held her close. I watched. Thinking to myself not sure I will be able to do that. Allison said to me “You can pick them up. Just to warn you, they will cry when you lay them down. They crave any and all human touch.”
A little toddler with blonde matted hair to her head, sticking out on the sides, and big blue eyes made herself known by standing in her crib. Her crib buddy followed her as they both climbed out of their crib to the floor. I followed them as they moved into the adjoining room. In that room I was taken back by the overwhelming smell. Grunting and moaning were the sound from the furthest crib in the room. Tied to the crib by a strip of bed sheet the boy older than the others had down syndrome. He was attached to his crib so he would not escape nor hurt any of the other children. Next to him in their own cribs lay four other boys all with severe disabilities One boy disfigured sat up with his legs turned the wrong ways. Another stared at his hands as they twisted and turned. Reminding myself to breathe again I turned around to walk out. I walked back into the newborn room. Neither room is easy to bear but I knew I was on the verge of crying.
This place is home to 80-100 orphans. The children here are found on the street, abandoned, neglected, abused, malnourished, and forgotten. This place is home to kids for sometimes months or years. Many of the kids will never return to where they came from. Should they be fortunate to be taken to a private orphanage they will leave the place.
In a desire to have this horrific scene explained I asked a question that I was afraid I already knew the answer too….”What happens to the disabled children?”. Allison kindly answered “They lay in those cribs until they are no longer alive.” These children do not leave that room. There is no place for them to get help. There are no doctors that will care. They do not see the sunlight. They simply lay there.
During our visit we held babies attempting to make them smile. Fed them ritz crackers with peanut butter and squeezed their little bodies tight. I listened as one babies heart beat irregularly. One of the newborn girls was covered in small bumps and was freezing. Her lips quivered as I held her in my arms. I bundled her up in a fleece too many sizes too big for her. The embroidered princess crown on the fleece laid across her forehead. I gently rocked her, repeating over and over again that “Yes you are a princess. Yes you most certainly are.”
My eyes held a pool of water for our entire visit. I laid down a little girl and rubbed a few newborns tummies as we said goodbye. Passing by other rooms, we peered through the window at children tied to their bed frames by ripped bed sheets. The rooms are all locked. The orphanage is severely understaffed so they must keep the children locked in their rooms to keep the children from running wild. Rooms upon rooms were filled with metal framed beds, children aged 4- 13 all bound to their beds by their ankle tied with ripped bed sheet.
Nothing prepares you for the reality that is that place. My heart is still heavy. It is something everyone should see. You could ask me to retell my time there, or you could read this over and over again but there are not enough words to explain. You cannot explain a feeling with words. Some things just must be experienced.
The lump in my throat, my stomach ache and my heavy heart will carry those faces around each day. I may have said this a time or two but for just a moment soak up what you have. Soak up even the ugly parts of what you have.
I can promise you there are children who are without much tonight. Children who will go to sleep hungry and who go without knowing that someone loves them. I pray that they know they are children of the King and that is something. The most important something of all.
You are someone. Someone to not only me but to the heavenly father who created you, just as you are. In all your ways, in your details, he created you just as you are and he called you good. He loves you so.
With the heaviest heart I pray you find true joy this holiday season…. not in things but just knowing that you matter.