Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Gabriel




It was two Saturdays ago. I have thought about it each day since. But I haven’t written anything down about it until right now. Because if it’s not written down, if a story isn’t told out loud, it will eventually pass, like so many memories, out onto the rapids. But there is a reality in putting it down to paper. A reality, witnessed and written, turns a story into a decision: you must then either decide to let the reality be swallowed in the fleeting rapids of memory, or lift it to shore with you, where it becomes part of your story.

I didn’t write it down because I don’t think I am strong enough to lift this. But I think we might be. And I think, just maybe, we could make this part of our story. And, just maybe, we can change these children’s reality a little as we write ours.

It was two Saturdays ago when I knocked on the double blue metal doors of the Mother Teresa orphanage in Kigali, Rwanda. A Sister came to the door and ushered us in. We were unknown, unscreened, unannounced. And yet there was just one direction: No pictures – it steals the children’s dignity. I was proud of the Sisters for refusing photography; one should not come to hold these precious, forgotten children for purposes of a moving photo spread tucked within their Gorillas and Lake Kivu album. Plus, I was relieved at the no-photo rule, because I know that part of me would be tempted to have a picture with me and the babies – the part of me that is vain and self-serving and memory-hogging. And I didn’t want to serve the part of me that believes moments matter because you have documentation you were there; I wanted to live in the place where moments matter just because they do.

It was two Saturdays ago, and we walked down the cement ramp into the mass of tiny precious babies covered in rashes and rags. The Sisters beckoned our group on a tour of the orphanage – where each room was a wall-to-wall sea of tiny blue cots, and then even tinier blue cots where the children slept, thirty or more to a room. But another girl and myself never made it past the shoreline of the children. We plunged into the wave of them, holding our breath and suspending our hearts for the next two hours, until we emerged, soaking wet with this new reality.

There are 127 children at Mother Teresa’s, from one day to 6 years old. They are here because their parents were killed, because their parents died of AIDS, because their parents or caretakers cannot afford to feed them. They are here because everyday they are left outside the gate where we entered, as unknown, unannounced, unscreened as we were. They are here because the orphanage takes every one of them.

I sat at the shoreline of this sea of children. And they literally clawed and screamed and elbowed their way onto my lap. There was rarely a moment when there were not three on my lap – one closest to my chest, one further down my knees in the middle, and one dangled at the edge of my knees. The ones who were not closest to my chest wailed and scraped and fought to get to the prized spot – where they would be held, close to someone’s heart. It was as if they instinctively knew the way a baby deserves to be held – even if they had never been held that way – and they craved this cradling above anything. They wanted to be a baby that one person holds and protects. They wanted to be touched.

They wandered around in plastic bags for diapers, some with no pants or no underwear, some in adult T-shirts to their knees. They had no toys. There were a few balls or pieces of bike in the cement yard where they ran – one 2 year-old boy was pulling around the broken handle bars that must have once been part of a bike. When it was taken from him by another child, he wept and screamed and threw himself on the ground.

One child did not ever have a ball or a bike piece for more than a few moments – they were always taken by another. And the one left without would invariably weep and scream and throw herself on the ground. As I watched, it occurred to me that these children had never had anything that was theirs. Not a ball, not a bike part – not a mother or a father – that was not violently stripped from them in a moment. They had nothing that was theirs to hold. And so, as I watched them weep, angry, uncontrollably, it made perfect sense to me. There was nothing that they could hold onto, nothing they could cherish and call their own, nothing to comfort them, which had not or would not be ripped away in an instant. Their wailing made perfect sense to me and made me want to throw myself to the ground as well.

When I started noticing that this was happening – all over the cement ground it was happening – and not knowing what to do, I started walking over to each weeping child and put my hand on his back, or ran my fingers across her head. And the child would stop. The child would catch her breath and breathe. The simple act of a human touch to their precious, scabby skin soothed them instantly. Because they want to be touched. They want to be a baby. A baby who someone holds and protects.

When it was time for the littlest ones to go into their room, they were gathered in. And then, from the inside of the locked screen doors, they stood, faces crushed against the screen, wailing to come out, to come out where there is holding and touching. But that also was ripped away, and they wept and screamed into the screen. They cried the way I think only babies who know they are not allowed to be babies, held and protected, can cry.

The child I held for about an hour had a heart that reminded me of Chase. A lot. Among the children who were feigning for themselves for balls and bike parts and anything they could call their own for even a moment, he noticed. He clung to me with a fire. And when someone had a ball stripped away, he would look me straight in the eyes and point to the child weeping on the ground. And so we’d walk, him clinging to my neck, to the child, and he would remain there clinging while I rubbed the child’s back. When another one wailed, he would point across the cement yard, and we’d walk there, to touch the baby’s face and wipe her tears. And together he pointed and we walked and we touched for an hour.

When the Sisters said it was time to leave, I had to unwind his clinched wrists from around my neck for five minutes and force him onto a bench, where he wailed, alone. With no one to point to him. With no one to reach for him. With another precarious comfort ripped from him in an instant.

These babies want to be touched. By something that will not be ripped from them.



It was two Saturdays ago.

I can still feel Gabriel's wrists clinched around my neck.

And I am beginning to believe that there must be some way we can lift part of his reality to the shore.

35 comments:

  1. My heart is full of tears. How can we help? How can we organize, what can we send, what is most needed, where can it go to get where it actually needs to go, how can I lift one of those little hearts to where it belongs? Organize us, Sister, or at least give me an address to organize myself.

    Thank you for this. I am moved beyond compare.

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  2. Sister, those babies need Monkees. And I think the Monkees need those babies. Tell us how to help...

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  3. I know that feeling. It's kind of like a "phantom pain" where you can still feel something after it has be detached. Yes, I know it well. Speaking from experience, I can tell you it does not easily go away.

    I'm sure you will also find out that, although no photos were taken, the images tend to stay with you.

    You are brave to tell their story and do a much better job than I.

    Peace!
    ~mark

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  4. I wish we could help them right now. Keep visiting them though and tell them that the monkees are coming.

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  5. It is obvious that these children are in need of many things. Affection being on the top of that list. Please tell us how to help, clothing, money, toys?

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  6. I have never been more ready in my life.. count me in!! Amanda, I will spend the next few days agonizing over these babies and wishing I was there with you to hold them and comfort them..then this pain will fade slightly..and I will try and store it in the back of my mind so i can go along with life as usual..but I really need to stop this cycle.. I need to DO SOMETHING!! I am tired of "wishing" I could help.. I.am.ready.now. Please put me in charge of something.. I need to be held accountable. JB

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  7. How do any of us move forward knowing that these babes sit alone praying for one touch, one smile, one warm hug? I pray you are able to work your magic--- please remember you have a team at home willing to do anything we can, even if that anything is to remember their stories and to hug our babies even longer and tighter. EB

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  8. thank you for sharing your heart and theirs...I am trying to gather my tears, from both a broken heart and a kind of fullness that reminds me how fortunate I have been. It is also very poignant that even with nothing, with not a single thing of his own, Annuncia spent his time giving you to others, taking care of the children around him whose hearts were broken. It's that simple - love each other. And the good news is, we don't have to have a single things to do it. Thank you again for sharing and witnessing this reality.

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  9. I've never before been brought to tears by a blog post. Today did me in. I want to strap every one of those babies to me and love them like I love my own baby. I want to bathe them and give them fresh diapers and clean clothes. I want to roll around on the ground with them laughing. I want to touch my cheek to their cheeks.

    I just spent a few minutes researching Mother Teresa's orphanages. There are other blog posts out there that tell similar stories, but very little additional information about how they get money and how we can help. Doyle, you are our trusted operative in the field. Please direct us. I know we can't rush in and save the day, and I know that there are people who spend their lives working on how best to do this amidst the innumerable obstacles. But we can do better than this. Like Bubba said, put me in coach.

    I love you, Annuncia. I love you, Doyle.

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  10. Put me in coach as well. What can we do?

    Love you, Doyle.

    Kling

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  11. Thank you for sharing. I know it is difficult to share these stories, but it is important for us to hear.

    We are thinking of you and praying for you.

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  12. You want to know something Amanda? Your heart and touch meant more to Annuncia than you will ever know. I know you have this image of Annuncia crying. I know you have the feeling of Annuncia's hands. But, I bet Annuncia still feels your warmth, feels the two of your hearts touching chest to chest, and feels your love and compassion. That was a gift. Hugs, Cin

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  13. Mandy, I sit here at work, eyes full of tears and I just want to be there with you. I want a position on this team. Put me in too, Coach.

    I love you with all my heart. Thank you for sharing.

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  14. i read this last night. and, again this morning. i'll probably reread it all day long. thank you for showing up, writing it down, and helping us see what you see. captain, my captain, i love you & your grand heart so much. count me in for anything. - pander

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  15. Sister, I wanted to pass along another blog to you. You may have already found it through someone else, but nonetheless I don't think you should go another day without knowing about Katie. http://kissesfromkatie.blogspot.com/

    She is in Uganda right now caring for orphaned children. Read her story. You will love her.

    Bubba, I am not trying to encourage Sister to stay in Rwanda, just trying to give her hope.

    Tricia

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  16. look at those precious eyes. I want to come out there right now and bring one of those babies home with me.

    Dream Team UNITE!!

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  17. Back in my lacrosse years, Bubba, the best Coach I know, told me the most important thing you can do in a tough game: Leave It All On The Field.

    This is what we will do, team. We will leave our time, talent and treasure on this field. And we will know we have done something that mattered.

    It will be tough. There is a lot to learn. We will be slow. And steady. And humble. I will be meeting with the Sisters at Annuncia’s orphanage. I will tell them about our team – people across the globe who want to play their best for these babies – who love them and desperately want to touch them. A team that would be honored to do something that matters for Annuncia and his brothers and sisters. We will learn their most urgent needs, how we can serve them. We will partner with a non-profit to collect tax-deductible gifts. We will make sure that Annuncia knows beyond doubt that he is loved.

    If you would like to join the DREAM TEAM, please send an email to momasteryatgmaildotcom. There will be email updates about what we learn and what we need.

    Your love and compassion and desire to serve are breathtaking. I have read each of your words over and over again. I am honored to be on your team.

    We will Leave It All On This Field.

    AFD

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  18. Hey Sister! One more comment - I sent your blog to the lady at our church who is helping to organize our Rwanda efforts and she would like your permission to share your blog with our church. I realize you started this blog on the internet and all that and it is a public thing, but somehow I felt like I needed to talk to you first. :-)

    Tricia

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  19. Tricia, of course. Thank you for sharing Annuncia's story with her. You are quick! Thanks again!

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  20. I am truly amazed by you and your spirit and your willingness to sacrifice for those in the world who have the least and need the most. The world needs more people like you. I read this post yesterday and have not stopped thinking about it ever since. The idea that there are children out there who are denied what most of us take for granted - a simple touch from another human being - absolutely breaks my heart. Let us know what you need - I stand ready! You are an inspriation.

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  21. Panda Bear
    My arms are around you as you take this journey through heartache. It takes such courage to let this reality of pain into your heart and mind. Thank you for sharing with us the gift of your sight and your love. Keep Christopher close as you carry these babies in your heart.
    Love You,
    Aunt Peggy

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  22. Annuncia. Beautiful name, beautiful child, beautiful spirit.

    I feel like I want to throw myself on a concrete floor and cry and cry. I am sending all my touches, my love to the children of the Mother Theresa's orphanages.

    Doyle, You showed all those children your heart - all of your heart and you did leave it all on the field. Every day you are doing that on your journey. Don't stop...keep it up and keep sharing it with us. I'm amazed. Not surprised of course - because that's just who you are. You're amazing just like those children in Rwanda (aka Wanda).

    I'm going to have to stop writing now because I can barely breath and I can't stop crying. Crying for those lovely children, crying because it's not fair that they have nothing to cling to - and crying because you're an amazing person that gave them something to cling to for hours. You are a gift. Keep giving it.

    Love you tons and miss your face. A lot.

    Always,
    Dana

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  23. Amanda,
    You do not know me, but you just described where my child lives. Thank you for being there to love on them. Thank you for sharing with me a glimpse into their reality even as it makes me mourn and weep. I am so encouraged by your heart for them. We have been in the process of adopting a child from that orphanage since April of 2009. We eagerly await a referral as we pray for all of the children we know we will leave behind.

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  24. Thank you Amanda. Like the Bowers above you do not know me, but my daughter used to live at Home of Hope. We brought her home in January and we feel very strongly that we still have another child there waiting for us. Since we were just meeting our daughter we did not get to experience being with the other children like you did. Thank you for sharing this.

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  25. Thank you Thank you Thank you! I would be so happy to help in any way possible. I will start by praying for the babies before I go to sleep tonight. Blessings and peace to you, the Sisters, and of course the Babies.
    XoXo Monkee Susie

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  26. For anyone stille reading this post (and thank you soooo much Amanda for writing it!!!), these babies don't really need toys, clothes or diapers. They need to be adopted. That and that alone is their only hope for a life beyond the blue doors. I know, because I brought home 2 of these children 3 months ago and they have become part of our family. They are learning to trust, learning to love, and learning to be loved. If you cannot adopt one (and I KNOW that adoption is not for everyone), help someone else afford it!!!! It costs close to $25,000 to adopt just one. Contact America World Adoption Agency or another one that helps children from Kigali and offer support to a wonderful family who is sturggling to take one home. The sisters there cannot accept formal fundraisers - they, like Mother Teresa have taken a vow of poverty. So PLEASE do what you can to give these children a real home! With a lap to sit on that will NEVER be taken away from them. Thank you again, Amanda for this incredible picture of what is happening across the globe!

    www.sneadventure.blogspot.com

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  27. Thank you for posting this. It is a wonderful picture. I met my son at this orphanage just this March. We've been home almost 3 weeks. I applaud everyone who wants to help--it is needed. Just be sure to make sure that what you send/provide will be used. I can tell you that weeks before your visit we personally took 15 soccer balls (preschool size) with a pump, 15 dolls, outdoor hopper balls, cars with a car mat to "drive" them on, etc. Obviously, the children are not playing with them. Maybe the nuns don't approve of the toys, maybe they needed the money for food and needed to sell them, I trust the nuns and was impressed by them, but make sure toys will be used--we spent hundreds of dollars getting them there. If they aren't going to give them to the children it would have been better to take cash or buy supplies which we also did while we were there.

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  28. Yes, beautifully written. You had me on the blue doors, as I remember entering through them on Father's Day 2009 to meet my new son for the first time.

    And as tearful and as true as this picture is, what I will always remember about my trip there was the last time we drove away, with a beautiful 3 year old boy sitting on my lap. And in the compound below, all the children jumping up and down, screaming with cheers of delight that their friend who was leaving them now had a "mama and papa".

    In the midst of everything else, they still could delight in a friend – really, a family member –being adopted into a new family. Nothing will ever erase that memory from me.

    cheers,
    -d

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  29. Thank you. Thank you for going there and letting the pain in. I am in the process of adopting a child from Rwanda and this is the orphanage my child will come from. Although it is hard to read. I am thankful you were there. Maybe you touched my child and soothed his pain- even if momentarily. I am thankful the children were crying and expressing their pain. There are many places where the children no longer cry and are numb, they have checked out, knowing their needs will never be met. I know a handful of other families in the process of adopting from there and will be traveling there. We all want to bring goods to them... maybe we can team up somehow... Thank you again for allowing your heart to be forever broken. It opens doors for healing and help.

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  30. Very well written Kelly. What a powerful post. My heart breaks too.

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  31. I meant Amanda...sorry about the name typo!

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  32. I could only scan this, can hardly stand to read it as I try not to cry in front of my two children. Their little brother is there right now waiting for us. It kills me that he is waiting in a situation like that when I would give anything to go get him this moment.

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  33. My wife and I have been through those same blue gates. We were there in 2007 when we adopted our son. Your description is spot on and brought back a lot of the feelings I experienced then. As we left the room that our son had been staying in, a child (about 1-1 1/2) was in a walker/exer-saucer. As we walked out, he raised his arm just wanting to be touched. When we saw the crib that our son had been staying in, we were dismayed to see another child had already filled it. We cried for many days and months following this experience . . . in part due to the fact that our son had to experience this for the first months of his life, and secondly for the rest of the children we couldn't take with us.

    As for pictures, we were able to take a few. The nuns protested at first, but allowed us to continue when we told them they were for our son. We wanted to have these pictures to show him when he gets older. Out of respect for the nuns and the children that were there, we have shared these pictures with very few people.

    One thing that must be mentioned is that, in spite of the conditions these children are living in, the sisters at this orphanage love them. They are simply shorthanded and unable to meet the needs of every child. They are doing their best to keep them fed and relatively clean.

    How can you help? Pray. Pray for continued education and stability in this beautiful, little country. Pray that God will provide a way for these young, Rwandan mothers and fathers to support their families without having to give them up. And lastly, pray for these children to know the love of a father and a mother. God is working in Rwanda and doing incredible things.

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