The two homes that I did get to visit were dramatically different.
The first we visited was the orphanage that all three of my boys are from. None of them had to live there for more than a few weeks, but picturing them there--only a few weeks old, fragile, helpless--well it literally made me sick to my stomach. The drive to this orphanage took us through some areas that defy description. Narrow muddy roads teaming with people and overflowing with trash. Oppressive heat and smell. A sadness that hangs in the air. And smack in the middle of all this--a small two story cement building with bars on the windows but no glass. A sewer canal that you have to step over to get inside the door runs alongside the building where you would expect to find a sidewalk.
Once inside you enter a large dark room filled with stacks of plastic chairs and dozens of children. Toddlers, preschoolers, elementary and junior high aged children. Only a couple of babies are here on this particular day. Many are quickly swept away to be adopted. If they aren't they probably won't last too long in this environment. There is no formula, no cribs, no medicine if they get sick, no one to really care one way or another.
The room is noisy with the sound of small children, but even in their free play time they don't look happy. They are not carefree. They are always hungry. Surprisingly, they do not seek out our attention. I think they have become indifferent to Westerners visits.
The day we came to visit Kristi had organized a lunch event at the orphanage. We delivered about 100 peanut butter sandwiches on little hoagie rolls and bottled water. Their normal meal would consist of a cup of the porridge that you see being mixed below. That is all they would get, one cup of porridge. The older kids have the job of feeding the younger, but you see throughout the room that the big kids were just eating the little ones food when no one was looking. Survival of the fittest, strongest, biggest.
It was a place I had to visit so that someday I can try to help my sons understand how they became a part of our family. But it was not a good day for me. First of all, it was too soon after getting the boys. I couldn't bear to put them down on the ground in that place. I couldn't stand to have anyone else hold them. I was so afraid, rational or not, that I would turn around and they would be gone. I was not very useful that day, I was struggling to hold my emotions in check. But I had to go, I had to see for my self. And I had to in some very small way, try to make things just a tiny bit better for all those kids left behind.
The second orphanage I visited was still heartbreaking, but such a contrast to the first. It is a place that OFA supports but we don't do an adoptions there. It is just as poor, but the atmosphere had some real joy in it. When we first arrived after a pretty lengthy drive out into the country, every child there walked up a hill to greet us at the road. We all went inside their large common room and the man in charge that day asked to open with a prayer. Then two of the older kids sang a beautiful song of prayer in French. I don't know exactly what the words meant, but the feeling was so real and lovely. I had tears streaming down my cheeks hearing the children who live in such desperate circumstances singing praises to our God.
Throughout our visit the kids were laughing and playing. They were curious to talk and joke with us. A few wanted to practice their English. Some of the girls were especially interested in holding the babies. In the pictures below you can see two of the teens that spent the whole afternoon carrying around Manny and JoJo. They were so sweet and nurturing. I supposed that it came in part from taking care of each other. And in this place you really got a sense that they did care for each other and that they knew that someone was looking out for them. They didn't have much, but they had a home together and God was watching over them.
This young man really tugged at my heartstrings. He was about 7. He made of fun of my French, but he let me give him a few hugs in spite of some teasing from his friends. I really wanted to try and sneak him home in my suitcase.
One of the things we brought to this home were about 30 pillowcase dresses that my theatre students made. This beautiful girl snatched one up and put it on right away over her clothes. She then carried Manny around for about 3 hours (no easy task if you have ever picked Manny up--he is a chunk). I couldn't hold back the tears as I had to take him out of her arms and give her a hug and kiss goodbye. How could that silly little piece of fabric make her life any better. How could I walk away from her that day knowing that she had no bed to sleep in that night and probably no dinner to eat. These two kids will never know the impact that they had on me that day.
As I look back at these pictures and write this blog post I am laying in a warm bed with Grace cuddled next to me. The room is cool and comfortable. The bed is warm and soft. We had pizza for dinner and there was one leftover piece that we threw away. We all took baths and showers with warm water and nice smelling soap, got wrapped up in soft towels and got into our favorite jammies. We watched a little TV and then settled in for the night. I can hear all of my boys softly snoring and Grace is tossing and turning as usual. Our lives are comfortable, good, peaceful. Oh so happy. And I am wracked with guilt. Overwhelmed with a sense of helplessness.
What will become of all those children. Which will live, which will die. Which will be adopted, which will live out their childhood in an orphanage. How does God decide? What part am I to play in all of this?
I got a lot of answers for my boys to the questions I know they will ask all too soon. But my visits to the orphanages of DRC have left me with so many more questions.