A Helping Hand
Since 2015, I’ve visited the Hogar Belen orphanage in Moquegua, Peru, four times. Along with my colleagues from Wellspring International Outreach, we work on the most urgent needs at that moment. Our projects have included renovating children’s rooms, setting up a bakery, installing hot water heaters and setting up a digital literacy program.
In the process of doing this work for this community of unwanted children, 3 nuns and a few additonal caregiving adults, I have received a lot more than I have given. Each visit affects me in a different way, uncovering some basic truth that goes unnoticed in the busyness and privilege of my everyday life.
This year, I learned what it means to lend a helping hand. Now, you are probably thinking I’m about to tell you what we did this past month during our most recent trip. Not at all. I’m going to tell you what I learned from the children about helping others.
The February Flood
In February, the town of Moquegua was hit by a flood of almost biblical proportions. The entire community of about 25 children and their caregivers had to be relocated – twice – before they could return to the Hogar Belen farm. While in their mini-exile, the children clamored to go home. For many of them, the farm is the only home they have ever known. It is a place where they can be themselves. It is the epicenter of their adopted family life.
Shortly before the flood, 8 more joined the family at Hogar Belen: 7 children, including a mother of 2 children and a newborn, with nowhere else to go.
If there is a silver lining to all the turmoil that the flood caused, it is this: the children are more appreciative of their very modest home; they have become more independent; and they have bonded together even more so, sometimes in the most unexpected ways.
During our visit, I witnessed several bonding moments that were exceptional. I’ll share two.
Keeping One Another Afloat
The first one occurred during a special outing in which we took the kids to a “resort” with a couple of pools and playground. Andrea, a 14-year-old girl, gently encouraged and then supported Kathleen, a special needs child, into the pool, so Kathleen could calmly float in the water. What is extraordinary about this is that Andrea took the initiative and care to help Kathleen float, whispering to her gently the entire time with words of sweet encouragement. Furthermore, Kathleen is non-verbal, so it’s hard to know what she even understands. But Andrea was there for Kathleen in a pure and loving way, so Kathleen could also experience the joy of the swimming pool.
A Band of Brothers
The second example involves 2 long-time residents of Hogar Belen who also have special needs: Armando and Michael. Armando is a bulky 35-year old man. He is non-verbal but understands when asked to do chores around the farm, whether it’s moving something heavy or taking the laundry to the washing and drying area. Michael is also a man, non-verbal and confined to a wheelchair. (My best guess is that he has something like cerebral palsy, but I’m no medical expert.) When Michael first arrived as a child, he was able to walk unaided and ended up sticking his hand in a lawnmower. As a result of that accident, Michael lost all the fingers on one of his hands. These two, Armando and Michael, share a room at Hogar and have for years.
What I saw this time though, was their friendship. Armando rolls Michael’s wheelchair around Hogar with great care, ensuring that they don’t hit rocks or potholes. Furthermore, every night, Armando picks Michael up from his wheelchair and places him in bed. They have truly become brothers and if they could speak, they would probably tell you so.
In my world of plenty and privilege, it is easier to show kindness, but our busy lives often blind us to the opportunities to do so. But at Hogar, those compassionate, helping hands are the very foundation on which the orphanage is built.