Friday was a good day, rich with love and emotion. It didn't start out that way. I went into the office with an overwhelming amount of work to do. Stories that needed to be done, and an office newsletter that needed to get out. When asked the day before if I could go to one of the aftercare homes with some of the staff on Friday, I reluctantly declined so I could get work done. Needless to say, at the last minute on Friday afternoon, I changed my mind and decided to go with the team... work will always be there and could wait.
The six of us left the office around 2pm and made our way to the home, arriving 45 minutes later. This home was in a Muslim part of town, bustling with people going about their daily lives. We pulled up to the home, right in the middle of the busyness, walked by a couple of goats and were greeted by the sweetest elderly man who was the guard at the gate. It was amazing how one could step off the busy streets into a peaceful oasis, or what seemed like one for this city. The front office is in somewhat of a courtyard, with vines growing up the walls, beautiful potted plants and a rustic white door with cracks in it that led into the main area of the home. Girls started coming to this door, shyly peeking in with smiles on their faces to see who was here. It was like this door was the door to the outside world; a world that used to hold tragedy and abuse for them. A world they used to have to face on their own. Now they were safe; now they weren't alone. Somebody cared.
After waiting several minutes we were ushered into the main office and met several of the women who worked at the home. Five of our rescued girls live here so our social workers already have relationships with these women who were the caretakers. The main purpose of our visit was to celebrate the birthday of one of our rescued girl's new little baby girl. She was going to be one year old. But first, some of the ladies took us into the main courtyard and we proceeded to get a tour of the entire home, since some of us were there for the first time. This I will never forget.
Two of our rescued girls immediately came to greet us. It was my first time meeting them. They were beautiful and glowing… that is not an overstatement. They stayed with us the rest of the day, practicing their English and showing us around. We saw where the girls ate, where they had their schooling, where they slept, where they played. There were rooms for training in everything: sewing, cooking, beautician, computers, etc. They were proud of what they were learning. With 350 children and young women at this home of all ages, there was a lot to see. Then we came to my favorite part: the baby rooms.
We walked up the stairs and were first ushered into the newborn baby room. With rows of little beds, they were each wrapped up tightly in blankets, with their tiny little heads popping out. One of them was only seven days old. We didn’t know where their parents were; some of them were abandoned, some of them unwanted and some of them had moms that lived at the home. There is something about the sight of a newborn baby that makes you want to cry and laugh all at the same time. It’s funny how you can have the deepest love for a baby, even when you first lay eyes on him or her.
We didn’t get to hold the newborns but were then taken to the next room where the 6 month to 1 year olds were. These babies we got to hold! I have never seen such smiley babies in my life. The little girl I held would not stop laughing and smiling. So much so, that it really made me wonder… how often do these babies get loved? With so many children at the home, the staff cannot possible give attention to everyone all the time. As we met more and more children, the desperation for love and affection became more and more evident to us. The desire to be loved was overwhelming. It broke our hearts.
Then we moved on to the toddler room. As soon as we set foot in the door, several dozen of these little ones ran to us, with huge smiles on their faces, clinging to our legs and reaching to be picked up. They wanted to be held, to be played with. The first little boy that reached out to me was mentally and physically handicapped. He couldn’t use his legs and used his hands to make his way towards me, smiling and reaching up to me. He was rather large to be picked up, but I did anyway. Then we sat and played for a few minutes. It almost wasn’t real. I couldn’t fathom their lives. How can these little ones not have a mommy or daddy to love them? We know that orphans exist, but when you hold one in your arms, so desperate for love, it strikes you in the deepest place that you almost forgot existed.
Unfortunately we only had a short time in each room. We made our way back downstairs to sit with the older girls. They brought the cake out for the birthday and we sang and ate, everyone huddled on the floor in little circles, chatting and giggling. It was surreal being there.
When our time came to leave, we walked out the same rustic door we had walked in through, entering back into the outside world. The feeling was bittersweet. Physical needs were being met in this place… but who would love these children, kiss them, tickle them, give them piggy back rides? Who would hold them?
We made a decision that this would not be our last visit to this home. The fight for justice in this world is not only about rescuing victims from slavery. It’s about holding a baby, holding a child. Even if just for a few moments, those are a few moments that they know someone cares, someone loves them.
Mother Theresa says it best:
“How can there be too many children? That is like saying there are too many flowers.”
(as much as I would like to post pictures, for the safety and confidentiality of the women and children, we cannot show any)