Jan 302013

This quiet, unassuming teen escaped my notice my first couple of years I visited the orphanage, but by the third year I recognized his face and called him by name, Ronnie.  I recognized his face and voice from church the previous night when he had sang in the band playing.

IMG_0873Mind you the church we held at the Rose of Sharon Orphanage in the middle of the Dominican Republic was vastly different than most church services in the US.  The church was simply a building with folding chairs inside and the music consisted of a primal looking drum, a rugged guitar and some voices, one of whose was Ronnie’s.  With the two instruments being relatively quiet, the voices could clearly be made out ringing off the sides of the building.  Ronnie had a sweet melodic voice that rose and fell in even measure with the rhythm of the song.

As I spoke to him, even his normal speaking voice ebbed and flowed with rhythm and he sounded as if he were singing.  I asked him if he liked singing and he nodded shyly, obviously not used to the attention.  I continued to chat with him in broken english and the infrequent spanish word I could throw in.  Over the next hour, his story began to unravel about how he came to the orphanage and his dreams.  Ronnie was brought to the orphanage along with an older and younger brother at about age 7.  He didn’t elaborate on life before the orphanage so I’m guessing it wasn’t positive.  But growing up in the orphanage, he had formed strong bonds with many of the boys and he was best friends with his two brothers.  I was so glad I had taken the time to engage with this shy teenage and learn a little about his life.  It took some more similar conversations over the next week and years after that to bring him out of his shell, but eventually Ronnie and I became friends.

Jan 242013

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I was hooked from the moment I first saw this precious little face peak out from under that hat oversized, faded blue hat.  His name was Junior and he was one of the most adorable little toddlers I had ever seen.  I met Junior my fourth year coming to the orphanage and was taken with his contagious laugh and continual smile– this boy was just bubbling with love.  But he was missing one thing.  At an all boy’s orphanage there are no mothers and only a handful of house mothers to love and pour affection on all sixty boys at the orphanage among all their other duties of cleaning, cooking, laundry and caring for the little ones.  It was a strenuous job, to say the least.  Think about the average American mother and her toddler.  She is always coddling him, changing him , cooing to him, snuggling and napping with him.  That is how that inseparable bond of mother and child is formed.

But Junior was missing this key aspect.  He didn’t have a mother present to hug and kiss and tell him that he was loved.  So when we came to visit Junior clung to us.  The first day, I picked him up, gave him some attention by playing peek-a-boo and from then on, he barely left my sight while I was at the orphanage.   He squirmed and whined when I tried to put him down, and was always nearby playing or trying to help while we were working.  I fell in love with that little toddler that week and gained a new appreciation for my mother.

Before that week, I never really understood how crucial it was for a young child to have a mother figure in his or her life at a young age.  The physical affection from a mother forms such an amazing bond between a child and mother and that is something sacred to be continually thankful for.

Jan 172013

When my parents first broached the idea of spending our spring break in the Dominican Republic, I was elated.  Until I found out that we would be working at an orphanage in a run down area, not too far from San Juan.  My family had previously vacationed over spring break, either on ski trips, road trips, or tropical vacations.  But this mission trip to the Dominican Republic was none of those.  Don’t get me wrong, I love helping people, but somehow I had the idea that spring break was my break and my time to enjoy myself.  I was in eighth grade and had not fully grasped the reality that some people never get that opportunity to relax and enjoy themselves because life is constant struggle of survival.

We left for the trip on a Friday night at midnight.  After driving through the night to philly, sleeping a little in the airport, catching


an early morning flight, a connecting flight and another connecting flight, we arrived in the Dominican Republic.  The weather was balmy and there was a carefree attitude to many of the passengers who exited the flight, clad in the typical tourist garb of wide straw hats, sandals and loose shirts covered in palm trees.  I secretly wished I was one of those tourists, flitting a way to a weekend of uninterrupted

bliss.  But what lay ahead was infinitely more fulfilling and enjoyable.  We boarded a rickety bus with an animated native as our driver who insisted on the loading the many luggage pieces into the back of the bus himself.  The bus ride began and as we swerved in between cars on a highway where there were no pavement markings and clearly no rules. People passed each other whenever they choose and tooted their horn when entering an intersection to let others no they were coming.  I saw 1-2 traffic lights the entire five hour trip.  I realized that I had no idea where we were going and my life was in the hands of this overexcited bus driver and the man leading our trip… The surprises on that bus ride where nothing extraordinary compared to the 60 boys at the orphanage who were unable to sleep that night because of the anticipation of our arrival the next morning.

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