He greeted me with a smile and a half wave. I smiled back and took in the backpack hanging on the back of his chair and the keen eyes that didn’t miss anything going on in the feeding room. So rare – an alert child in a room where most are immovable and unaware.
As I coaxed the child who was half laying in a wheelchair to swallow the noodle and veggie mush that was the day’s fare, I continued to peek over at our new friend. “Surely he is a child of one of the nannies.” I convinced myself. “He can’t be a new arrival. He won’t live here.” I sighed deeply with relief when the cook entered and planted a kiss on his cheek as she handed him a bowl of noodles.
He watched us as we fed the others and cleaned up after himself. “He belongs to someone.” I told myself again as I watched his mature, smart and careful behavior. Then he stood up. His legs dragging slightly behind him. I doubted. As I left for the day I handed him a piece of bright blue paper and a handful of oil pastels. The bit of comfort and entertainment this art teacher had to offer. His alert eyes haunted me for the next several days.
I got my answers when I was introduced to a new student on Monday. The very child I was sure belonged to one of the nannies.
But he belongs to no one….except to me, as a student, and to some nannies, as another child they need to care for.
Most people would assume the orphanage is an awful place filled with stressed nannies, uncaring directors, and neglected children. The one in my city….is not like that at all. It is common for me to see a teacher walking with an arm slung around the shoulders of a student. The cook takes the time to feed the kids and ask them how they like the food while offering a joke and a smile. (I even see the cooks slip candy to the kids while the nannies aren’t looking.)
Here’s a great example of the people I work alongside. One afternoon, a nanny asked me to give special attention to one teen girl who is unresponsive in her bed…”Doesn’t she have beautiful eyes?” This nanny has worked in the same room for 11 years and loves “her” kids who are bedridden and don’t respond to her compliments and happy chatter.
It isn’t just the staff….the director sets the tone as she shows me photos of children they hope will find families. They care. The children call them “mamas” and the workers call it “a children’s home.”
I see the love and care they give the kids….it makes me proud. They have risen above the normal horrors that surround an orphanage. But I must admit I can’t bring myself to call the workers “mammas” and it will never be a home.
The three oldest students in my Monday class have lived at this institution all their lives….well at least the years they recall. “You can call me Bruce. Bruce Lee,” proclaims a charming older student proudly using his English. Mark, who is unable to use his arms, is able to make amazing art with his toes. He finally told me to call him Mark after I pronounced his Chinese name so poorly for the first month of classes that he told me to just use English! These guys now are closing in on their 17th birthdays. Their time at the children’s home is coming to an end as they inch towards manhood. There is a place for them to go – it is the elderly home across the courtyard that awaits them next year, where they will sit in their wheel chairs and wait out the rest of their lives.
If you have no parents, there is no one to fight for you, no one to answer your deepest questions, no one to cheer for you as you accomplish milestones. You belong to no one. My students have a safe place to sleep, decent food to eat, teachers who care, which is more than some children in the world have — but that isn’t enough.
So that Monday afternoon, I looked my new student in the eyes as I welcomed him to class with a paper plate, cotton, a set of googly eyes, and a smile. It is what I had to offer as my heart was weeping. He belongs to no one. No one is fighting for him. When he lost his balance and bumped his head, he was put in a wheelchair for safety. His awkward gate keeps him from being able to attend school, trapping his keen mind. I wonder how long his eyes will stay alert and bright without a mom or dad to fight for his education, hold him when he bumps his head and cheer for him when he tries to walk again. Will he sit in my class for the next 8 years — until he also is too old to live in the children’s “home?”
For the sake of these boys I will continue to say to anyone willing to listen….kids need families.
When I came home from class yesterday, I was greeted by a bright eyed boy walking with a slightly uneven gate. “Mommy,” he yelled. “You came back!” (He now says this whenever anyone of us comes home.) I can’t help but wonder how our little man happens to be in our home rather than in an orphanage. Now every time I am greeted by our Little Man running to tackle me as I enter our home, I think about my nine year old student still waiting for a mommy to cling to.
It was a miracle that gave Little Man to our family. Mostly that miracle is ours. Our lives wouldn’t be the same with out him. I wonder…how many families are missing out on the blessings that would be immeasurable?
Who will adopt my students? Who will step out in faith and claim the blessing of being family to one so precious?
They don’t need a teacher. They need families. They need miracles.
“He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young.”
“He heals the brokenhearted
and binds up their wounds.
He determines the number of the stars
and calls them each by name.
Great is our Lord and mighty in power . . .
His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse,
nor His delight in the legs of the warrior;
the Lord delights in those who . . .
put their hope in His unfailing love.”