The highlight of this trip, for me at least, was spending a day helping out in an orphanage.
My cousin has been in Ecuador for three months with a volunteer program OSSO. They service several orphanages in Ecuador. On a rotating basis, they go into the orphanages and wash and feed babies, help with physical therapy, and just love on the kids. It is an amazing program!
The center we went into was a day care center of sorts. Some of these kids had one or more parents that either worked all day, or otherwise couldn't take care of the kids.
These kids live in the Andes mountains. The facility was up in the mountains where it was relatively cold and rainy. It was very green and lush, but overgrown and dense.
I helped the kids wash their hands and faces, and brush their teeth. The kids do not live in homes that have running water, and they would stay at the sink (cold water) for as long as they could...until they got shoved out of their spot by another kid. The only time they got to brush their teeth was once a week, when the OSSO girls came in. They all had various progression of tooth decay.
"Dientes!" (teeth) I would say, and they would smile so big, and show me their freshly brushed teeth.
I was amazed at my Shianne. She dug right in and helped out too. Despite the language barrier, she had quite the fan club. There were a few of the little Ecuadorian girls who took to her, and "pestered" her all afternoon. She was so cute with them.
The OSSO girls came in bringing Fruit Loops and yarn for the kids to make necklaces. Most of the kids ate more than they got strung, and I am sure that these kids are no strangers to hunger. A few of the kids stuffed fruit loops into their pockets, and made extra necklaces to take home.
My mom was amazing. She is always good with kids.
A true grandma, she constantly had a child curled up on her lap, and while she was helping them string their colored fruit loops, she would practice colors with them. In Spanish!
"Azul, verde, amarillo..." and we learned that regionally Ecuadorians do not use the word "naranja" for orange, they use "tomate." (Tomato!) We verified this later with a street vendor who was selling an orange poncho.
"Que color es?" (What color is this?)
One of the boys made a long, long string of Fruit Loops. I was joking around with him and asked him in Spanish if the necklace was for me. He looked so crushed, and said yes, and reluctantly started to give it to me. I gave it quickly back, and told him I was only teasing him. I felt like such a jerk. His eyes lit up again, and he hurried and stuffed it into his green hat.
The OSSO girls also brought some rolls and some fruit for the kids to eat. Most of them scarfed the food down so fast...
But a few of them kept them, and slipped them into a pocket or box, I am sure to save for later. Who knows if they had anything at home to eat? Maybe that roll would be dinner, or would be shared with a hungry parent or older sibling. Sometimes I wondered what they were thinking, and then in the same breath I was glad to *not* know. It was heartbreaking enough to imagine.
When it was time for the kids to go, there was a mad scramble for the extra rolls and fruit. Scraps from the floor were going into pockets.
It was then, my little green hat friend timidly tugged on my leg. He had made me a fruit loop bracelet.
"Para ti!" (For YOU!) he said, and excitedly pointed to his own bracelet.
I held it together until then. I could not help it when the dam burst. I am sure he was pretty confuzzled as to why I broke down bawling when he gave me a bracelet. Strange gringo...
I wish I had something to give. It was such a helpless feeling, to watch those kids leave the safety of that building.
Siblings took care of siblings. This was an eight year old girl, who wrapped her baby sister into a shawl and flung her onto her own back to carry home. The weight of the world on her little shoulders, going "home" no doubt to more worries. A lot of the shacks in the area were wiped out this season due to massive mud slides.
One by one, or little family group, by group they disappeared into the jungle.
And I cried.
I cried for myself.
For what a jerk I am. For how much I take for granted. And for how insignificant and silly my problems are compared to what these kids face every day of their lives.
I cried for them.
For toothaches, for head lice, for fleas.
For not having water.
For being cold.
For knowing hunger.
I cried for the unfairness of life.
For believing that God loves these kids every bit as much as he loves me, and yet, why am I given so much? And these kids have so little.
And then Sam had to remind me, that in spite of it all--they are happy. They don't know any different. Life is simple. And they are happy.
I have to believe that, or I don't sleep at night.