Apr 252013
 

I wouldn’t have guessed that at the tender age of 9 or 10, a young boy with so few material possessions could be self conscious about the way he looked, but he was.  It took me a little to recognize the way that Gabriel smiled without showing his teeth or if he giggled. He immediately covered his mouth.

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But sure enough I began to see that he barely showed his front teeth at all.  When I finally got a glimpse, I saw what made the poor child so embarrassed to smile with his teeth.  His front tooth stuck out farther from the rest in a grabs your attention kind of way.  The boys only go to the dentist once a year, when the clinic comes and Gabriel had just become a part of the orphanage so more than likely, a dentist had never even glanced at those teeth before.  Poor access to dental care caused this child his carefree spirit that allowed him to laugh freely.

I’ll never know if other boys made fun of him for it or what drove him into that shell of concealment but it saddens me that a childhood, which is supposed to be a happy time of abandonment and innocence is being tarnished.  Looking back on my life, childhood was the only time when I was so oblivious to others opinions and judgements that I didn’t even think about holding back and concealing some part of myself.  I hope that over the next year sometime, Gabriel will get a chance to go to the dentist and get the tooth fixed.  And if that’s not a possibility, I hope that even more than that he learns to shed his veil of self consciousness and learn not to care what people say or think.  That’s a lesson that I think everyone needs to learn at some point in time.  My mother used to say “not everyone is gonna be a fan”.  Once you accept that truth, it’s easier to accept the reality that follows.

Apr 182013
 

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This adorable little kid is named David and I have seen him grow and learn now for five years.  When I first met him, he was barely able to walk and had the cutest chubby little legs that waddled when he walked.  Over the years, he has lost some of his baby fat, but hasn’t lost his childish sense of fun.  He will take anything you give him and turn it into multiple different kinds of toys, that you couldn’t even imagine if you tried.  In the pictures above, he took some modeling micro-beads that were being used to create different animals and stuck it on his face as a mustache.  When I cam back later, he had rolled some up into a ball and was throwing it back and forth with another boy.

I was amazed at the creativity of a six year old when it came to toys and games.  At the orphanage, they don’t even have a fraction of all the toys that most kids play with here.  They have a few matchbox cars and a meager collection of legos, but for the most part they play outside and with each other.  They’ll be able to come up with a game simply from sticks and some dirt.  One simply bouncy provides 10+ games, as opposed to just soccer or basketball.  They view play in an entirely different manner.

It’s hard to hypothesize where this creativity comes from, but if I had to guess I would say two things: Number 1- free time and Number 2: Lack of materials.  As children, they have next to no obligations besides bathing and eating.  So that gives them all the time in the world to think about games and play.  Secondly, they don’t have a lot of toys to work with so they stretch what they have and multiply their rewards.  Most kids in America just want more more more, but if they were more thankful and appreciative for what they have in front of them, they would’t be so focused on getting another toy.

 

Apr 102013
 

Mental illnesses in third world countries are often neglected and ignored.  When everyone in a family is required to pull their own weight and contribute, a family is at a disadvantage if they have a child who struggles in certain basic functions.  Another compounding factor lies with there being little care for the mentally ill.  In barrios, which are like slums, children born with defects are even left to die.  Such was the case with this sweet little boy named Paco.

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Someone had bundled the babe up and left him in a graveyard to die.  Luckily a kind soul had found him and brought him to the orphanage where he was nursed to health and raised.  Nobody is entirely sure what is wrong with Paco, but the likely choice is Down’s Syndrome.  He has some of the key signs like:

  • A flat face with an upward slant to the eye, a short neck, small ears, and a large tongue
  • Tiny white spots on the iris (colored part) of the eye
  • Small hands and feet
  • A single crease across the palm of the hand
  • Small pinky fingers that sometimes curve toward the thumb
  • Poor muscle tone or loose ligaments

From the Center for Disease and Control.

At first, Paco couldn’t understand or speak at all.  But once the orphanage hired a specialist to work with the mentally disabled children, he began to progress.  Paco learned how to count and could say simple words.  While he will never function at the same level as all the other children, he has come a long way under the supervision and training of the specialist.  It is sad to know that so many children can be neglected and pushed to this side because of  a factor that they can’t control.  However, there are some activists in the D.R. who are pushing for more treatment for mentally ill patients, so there is hope for others.

 

Apr 032013
 

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You would never believe the transformation I saw in this little child’s life from one year to the next.  The first year I saw him, he was continually grumpy and wouldn’t let you tickle or play with him.  A scowl was forever pasted on his face and he barely associated with the other boys.  And with around sixty boys at the orphanage and only 6 or 7 housewives to care for them, nobody noticed for a while, that something was seriously wrong.

Finally after a year of this behavior, somebody suggested estalin go see a doctor to see if there was something internally wrong. After some tests at the local clinic, the doctors discovered that little estalin had a 6 foot long tape worm in him.  The tapeworm was stealing his nutrition, causing the child to be constantly hungry.  The tapeworm was living in his intestine and also causing weakness and digestive issues.  Because the boy was so young, he wasn’t able to verbalize all these conditions, so he suffered while the tapeworm grew inside him and sucked away his nutrients.

Tapeworms can be extracted from eating raw or undercooked meat or drinking contaminated water.  Nobody is really sure how estalin contracted the tapeworm but it is likely that it happened before he came to the orphanage.  Fortunately, this story has a happy ending!  He was able to get the tapeworm removed and the change in estalin was night and day! He immediately became cheerful and giggly.  When I came back the following year, I hardly recognized the smiley face that greeted me with a big hug! He was completely transformed.

It’s hard to imagine tape worms and intestinal parasites being a common occurrence, but in many third world countries, they are a common ailment.  Estalin was lucky that his condition was not more serious and he was able to make a full recovery.  And I’m happy that he’s transformed into the ball of sunshine that he is now.

 

 

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