It’s 9:30 in the morning and the nine of us, plus Rocky pile into the CTC Jeep to head over to Good Shepherd Orphanage. It’s a bumpy ride and we all laugh at the fact that having 11 people in one car would be illegal in Canada.
When we get there, a couple of kids instantly run out from the orphanage to greet us. A little girl in a pretty green dress pulls at my hair and strokes Kayla’s leg. She’s also fascinated by Melissa’s sunglasses. We introduce ourselves to the vivacious girl, whose name is Mary.
Mary is one of about 10 kids at the orphanage – though the term ‘orphan’ is one that Nathan doesn’t really like. After all, some of the children do have parents, but they’re unable to look after them.
Good Shepherd is operated entirely by one woman named Jane. And it wasn’t until CTC became involved that she funded the place entirely on her own. Still, CTC doesn’t have direct control over the orphanage, nor can they overtake it as one of their programs. The orphanage receives funding from Kansas State University, as a result of its partnership with CTC, and now Good Shepherd has a kitchen, garden, mattresses, and split dormitories for boys and girls.
Today, Kerwin, Quentin and Jennifer help in finishing the walls of the kitchen, while the rest of us repaint the girls’ dorm.
We start by moving the bunk beds and cleaning the walls. The odour of urine and the piles of dust beneath the furniture practically make me gag; it looks like the floors haven’t been cleaned or wiped in years. The only thing we have to clean the floor is a bushel of grass and an old cloth. We do the best that we can and before long, the room looks much brighter and cleaner in a baby blue colour.
We tell Holly to take some of the kids out of the room and play with them so we can paint the second coat. I wander off with Kayla to explore the rest of the orphanage. In the classroom, I discover a baby girl lying on a dirty and ragged piece of foam. There are sores all over her face and she blinks at the ceiling motionlessly.
“She looks sick,” Kayla says. “She’s not doing what other babies do.”
I come close to pick up the baby, but she reeks. Her clothes are soaked and soiled and it looks like she hasn’t been changed in a long time. In the doorway, Leah, one of the caretakers, is standing.
“Has she been changed?” I ask her. Leah shakes her head. She then calls over one of the children, Moses, and asks him something in Swahili. He quickly scurries off.
“Is she sick?” Kayla asks. Leah nods.
“What kind of sick?”
“HIV positive.,” Leah replies. She tells us that Fresca came to the orphanage a couple of weeks ago, and was dropped off by the District Officer when her mother died.
I feel a huge knot in my throat as I look over at Fresca. Eleven-year-old Moses then comes into the room with a pile of clean clothes under his arm. Instinctively, he begins changing her. She stops crying the moment he holds her, almost as if he’s her big brother.
Tears start gushing down my face as I watch Moses take care of her. It’s too much for me to handle, so I leave the room. Moses reminds me of Benjamin Button – an adult stuck in a little child’s body. Only that he is a child. All the children here have been forced to grow up so quickly and I’m overwhelmed at the fact that Moses is more mature and paternal than I am.
After lunch, a group of clowns sponsored by a Dutch NGO called Terre des Hommes, arrives to play with the children. They perform skits, sing and facepaint the children. I’m so heartened to finally see the kids act like kids – laugh, giggle and run around.
Spending the day at Good Shepherd Orphanage impacted all of us in one way or another. Some of us have decided to donate to the orphanage on a regular basis, and others have promised to come back and visit. For me, the kids at Good Shepherd have taught me the meaning of resilience, love and compassion, while reminding me that we are all part of the same community, even if we live on different sides of the world.