Nearly a dozen orphaned babies. Another 14 or so toddlers less than 2-years old. Put them together with my desire to be una abuela (grandma) and you have the perfect scenario at the Solomon Klein orphanage where I volunteer two afternoons a week.
With only two women working full time to care for 25 or so little ones, it’s easy to imagine that diapers don’t always get changed immediately, tears don’t get dried, and hugs and loving arms tend to be in short supply. From what I’ve witnessed, the staff does a super job. But they can’t possibly manage all of the children’s physical and emotional needs.
Here’s where I come in.
Along with a few other Maryknoll volunteers and one tireless nun in her 70’s who shows up Monday through Friday afternoons, I help feed, hold, play with and care for these children, many of whom have been abandoned at a very early age. One little angel was only a week old when he arrived at the orphanage after being discovered on the street. Unfortunately, his story isn’t unique.
And if it’s not a case of being abandoned, most likely the child was removed from a home where he or she was being abused. Apparently it happens a lot. About 150 children live in this one orphanage alone.
It’s a sad and difficult situation. But when I’m there, I don’t think about that. My only focus — who needs to be cared for in this moment? Whose nose needs to be wiped? Which baby can I cradle in my arms while she drinks from a bottle that is usually propped up against her mouth with her blanket because it is impossible for two women to hold and feed 11 babies while managing all their other responsibilities? Which toddler most needs to know that his cries for attention will be answered by a soft caress to his wet cheeks?
Actually I have learned how to tend to multiple pequeño niños while simultaneously soothing a baby in one arm. I’m amazed at what I can do with only two hands, two arms, one voice, and one heart.
And there’s something else I’ve learned. I’m here for another reason besides giving much-needed love and attention to these children. I’m here for myself. Because every once in a while when I look into the eyes of a baby I’m holding or stroke a toddler’s face and hair, I get it. The gift of Love I’m giving to these children is trying to get through to me, too. To the vulnerable, young one who needs to remember. It’s as if God is saying, “Do you see, this is what I long to offer you?”
Just as tenderly as I hold them, Loving Presence desires to hold me.
Sometimes I have a hard time fully taking that in. But this Love never gives up on me. Even when I’m so active or self-absorbed that I barely take time to be still and know.
Am I physically tired after spending 3 1/2 hours rocking, singing, cooing, caressing, playing, and listening to wailing children? For sure. But for the gift of healing, and the love of a child, it’s more than worth it.