Saturday, January 5, 2008

Lov´n under-privileged children in Venezuela

We live in a community of many nationalities, especially from South America. This article is provided to help understand some of the culture from where they came and also to relate to our own own.

Some 30 children of various forms of poverty and health gave us new insights into life today. Like my wife said, ¨this is reality where the real world connects to fantasy. We do not live in a perfect world." Don´t we all learn more each day? This was such an exceptional experience for all of us that I had to share it! Here in Venezuela, the children´s rights are protected by the government, so we could not take any photographs. I will outline a few memories to note what we did and what benefits unfolded for us and these children.

We brought new toys from home to give them and had arranged a visit to this special home before we left the states. The toys had to be special for these special children from little babies to a fourteen year old. Most of them were incapable of opening their packages so we did so for them. The event was a party of about two hours duration. When we arrived, several of the children were curious why we were there and what we had with us. Two of them came out to the lobby to mix with us and see what we had. They were fascinated with our eyeglasses, the camera which I was not allowed to use and all the packages we brought. After working with the social workers to put names to the gifts and see that the toys were distributed appropriately, we went into the children´s area and fed them the sandwiches and juice that we brought. We needed to help a few with their lunch but generally they were able to feed themselves. Mostly they came and asked for help when they needed it, but for some we had to go offer our help. I remember one child in particular who seemed starving for affection. She was about 4 years old and was not happy when we arrived. I picked her up and hugged her. She did not allow me to put her down for about 15 minutes. She grabbed me around the neck and held her face tightly next to mine. She was precious, and my heart pained to see any child like this. She finally settled down and was happy and participated in the event like the others, but we remained close after our initial emotional acquaintance. Another child that my daughter got attached to was the little girl without arms and legs. My 19-year-old daughter fed her while she was in her lap on the floor. Of course the little girl loved her attention. That girl was quite adept with her arms, managing to put on her cap and arranging it on her head very quickly. She also was able to walk well using her stub legs. Another little boy with black curly hair wanted me to pick him up and love him several times while we were there. He is about seven years old, and I could not hold him for long. But I gladly helped him every time he came to me.

One room was dedicated to tots and babies, with baby beds lining the walls. We went in there to visit them, but only one of them could interact with us and that interaction was only one-way affection. Most seemed to be be suffering from autism

After eating, the children were instructed to sit down in their chairs and wait for their names to be called to receive their gifts. They did so very well, quite behaved! Some wondered after a while if they would get a gift, so we had to speed up the process. They were excited. Some received dominoes, others dolls, others little cars, and other gifts. We had to cull the doll packages to remove the little hair brushes and nail files that came with them. The packages were difficult to open and the children wanted the little extras in the packages, but for safety sake, we had to remove those extras. It might have been better to open the packages beforehand, but part of the experience was the interaction with the children in opening their gifts. That gave us an idea of their skills and a better appreciation of who they are and their plight in this life. Some or all of the older children go to school. We were told that it is very unusual to receive visitors. Some say that the general population here does not have a conscious for these poor little ones. It is very rare for a man to visit them. Two called me ¨papa¨ and called the social worker ¨mama¨. I was not the only man there. A male family member also accompanied us. The older girl was also quite special. She was in a wheel chair and was not sociable until I went a talked to her like an adult. She wanted to know where we came from and why we were there. She opened up to me and soon she joined everyone else and enjoyed our visit. I noted that they tended to look after one another, especially the older ones to the younger ones. One little girl took the gift of another little girl and told her to keep it in the paper bag that we provided. She helped her put it in the bag when we left.

All in all, it was an event of love and compassion. I would have taken one home if I could. I have always wanted to do this here and was so glad when my wife's family arranged it. The responsibility for these children rests with the government and that is sad. Yet it is comforting to know that all children have protected rights here, even though the general population chooses to ignore the children and their plight.

I recommend that other people do this if they can, anywhere in the world including here.