This is me, way back then:
I remember the first day that I stumbled into Hogar del Nino orphanage. Xiomara was at the gate. She was wearing an orange, hand-woven hat and blowing kisses, shouting, "Teeno!" This is standard behavior for Xiomara, but I didn't know that then. I was confused and amused.
This is Xiomara:
I walked around the orphanage and saw all of the kids--I say saw them instead of met then because there were far too many to meet. I saw young, physically disabled kids in wheelchairs playing with a little basketball hoop. I saw older, mentally disabled adults rocking back and forth and screaming. I saw a room full of babies, lying on the ground on plastic mats, crying to be held. I saw Geovanny, wearing a tie and smiling. I saw Alonso, waving me over with his eager eyes, wanting to talk though he isn't able too. I saw iron cages in their bedrooms. I saw the workers hugging and talking to them.
I was totally overwhelmed.
I met with the director, and, in my poor Spanish, tried to tell her how much I wanted to help. I tried to tell her that the Hogar and its work on behalf of the residents was beautiful.
That's when I burst into tears.
I am not a crier, but the swell of emotions was just too much. On the one hand, this seemed like a safe, clean place for the residents where at least they had food and some love (unlike so many disabled beggars I'd seen on the streets of El Salvador). On the other hand, how could they sleep in cribs that looked like cages? How could all 150 of them be given enough attention by just 30 or so well-intentioned workers? Why weren't the physically disabled kids in school? How could I possibly make any sort of a difference here?
I remember the director handing me a tissue with a smile. She told me to come back the next day.
I came back almost every day that summer. I fell in love with these faces:
I've been back every year since. I didn't know if I would be able to go back this summer due to my fertility treatments and our summer schedule with Ryan's Board exams, etc. But HELP International is willing to pay for my ticket (I now direct their volunteer program for the orphanage), and yesterday I decided, "What the heck, I am going."
So on Monday, in less than one week, I will be taking off to El Salvador for a few days. Ryan will not be with me, which will make me and the kids very sad, but I hope to make the most of my quick visit.
I can't wait to hug this girl:
And I hope Xiomara is waiting to greet me at the gate.