so much has happened in the past 10 days, i wish i could take all of you by the hand and walk you through what my eyes have been opened to. i would introduce you to all my orphan babies and kindergarden students. i would take you to dinner with the Ohlin family and show you how wonderful and sweet they all are. if only words and pictures could do it all justice. but i guess if they could then the great things wouldn’t really be all that great then, right?
last week we spent the first half of everyday day at New Life School. we were there from 9am to around 3pm everyday. it was funny to remember what life was like being in school all day as a kiddo. shelby and i taught the 3rd grade english class together, then we would split off- her to the 4th grade and i to kindergarden. then we joined back up at the end of the day and taught preschoolers english. oh my, please try to wrap your head around a bunch of khmer preschoolers trying to sing “Father Abraham” in english. the cuteness is overwhelming.
oh, also at the New Life, they asked us to organize their library. initially i thought this would be a one day project but it ended up taking 2 weeks and consisted of over 1,000 books. the librarian at the school doesn’t speak english so she couldn’t organize the english books herself, so the school asked us to do this for them. when we left the school tuesday the librarian stopped us in the hallway, gave us both bear hugs, thanked us, and told us she loved us. it just warmed my heart, and made all the hours we spent on the library worth it. New Life was as great experience. i’m going to miss all of our students, in their little uniforms and cambodian accents. no one will ever say “teacher jenna” quite as cute as they do. here’s one of my favorite pictures from the trip, (photo credit: Shel Shel) of me and some of my little students : )
after school last week, we would run errands for the orphanage and then head to Haley’s House to see our precious babies. i know the are all older children but every time i see them i can’t help but think (or yell) “ahhh my babies!”. maybe part of it is how they seek affection and need it like a baby does. they crave it as if they have never had it…and most of them haven’t.
my mom ended up raising 1,500$ total from her awesome bible study ladies and other generous donors. how amazing is that? i feel so incredibly blessed. it’s funny to look back on my first night after the orphanage…i was just staring into the dark, rolling back and forth, wishing so badly i could sleep, yet so torn apart by seeing these kids without even mattresses. how cool is it to think that while tossing and turning, God knew the whole time what was in store for this us? He knew even before we bought our plane tickets that He would provide for these kids through us. i feel so privileged to have had that experience and that God would even consider me to do these things for Him. i’m so unworthy and feel unbelievably honored.
the first thing we gave the kids were their shoes. we thought crocs were a good option because they are light weight, water proof, more durable than flip flips but still cool with all the heat, and not to mention they come in such fun colors! here’s a fun picture of some of the kids with them : )
the next day after school we went shopping for toothbrushes and toothpaste. they were pretty excited about these : )
next on our list was book bags. this was a blast. i loved going into the market and trying to explain to a stand owner why i would want to purchase 40 book bags. “fooouurr?” “no 40, I need 40 book bags” “oh ok, i get you spiderman book bag” “wait, what? no.” “i give you special price!” “errr i need 39 more” anyway, we finally bought them all, for a “special price!!!” and trucked out of market, with an absurd amount of bags. giving them to the kids that night is one of my favorite memories. first of all, when we arrive at the orphanage on the Tuk Tuk, all the children come running towards us screaming and clapping. i think my favorite thing in the whole world is when one of the littlest girls, Srey Min, always finds me first and pushes through the other kids, grabs my hand, and just smiles and says, “mam”. thats what they call us here. “mam”. i should have recorded them saying it because their sweet voices saying “mam” is music to my ears. it was like her way of saying, “see me? i’m here. i got your hand first.” i just love it. love love love it. when the kids saw us take out the book bags they freaked. jumping up and down, hugging us, screaming “thank you mam!” and “i pray for book bag, i pray for one!!” and this is before we even passed them out! i’m so happy they get to go to school with new clean book bags and not be embarrassed. it’s such a “small” thing, but i love knowing God cares even about the little things. he hates that his children go to school and are labeled the orphans even more than i do.
the other things we were able to get them were school supplies (notebooks, pencils, erasers, etc.), soap, shampoo, laundry detergent, a variety of toys, sports balls, and wait for it…a washing machine. there was another volunteer team with Asian Hope that was at the orphanage earlier in the day when the washing machine was delivered and they said the kids were ecstatic. this surprised me because they are so young and i didn’t think they would be old enough to appreciate the significance of it. but the team told us the older kids spent all morning washing their clothes, they were seriously in the room for hours. this made me so happy to hear. thank you to everyone who was a part of this!!! you have absolutely, with out a doubt, made a difference, and a great one at that. the kids were so thankful for everything that was given to them. you cannot imagine how excited one child can get about a simple notebook. their faces lit up like we were giving them a new bike. when we came with soccer balls and volleyballs, we didn’t even try to give them out evenly, we just kinda threw them into the crowd. we tried to communicate to them that the toys were for everyone and everyone needed to share. but it’s really hard with kids that have nothing. they want something that is theirs and only theirs. they want to own something, be responsible for something, just like any of us. there is pride in knowing something belongs to you. it was the hardest with the toys because it would be dumb to by 40 soccer balls, but it almost seemed like the better option at times. when the kids got ahold of one of the balls they didn’t even want to play with it out of fear someone else would take it. so a lot of them would run them up and hide them in their room or go sit on a bench and just hold it. shelby and i were there longer than usual the day we gave out the toys though and eventually were able to talk them into bringing the balls out and all playing with them. it was really fun to see them just being kids, kicking a ball, running, laughing, and doing what kids do best.
just a little side story, one of the high school boys asked us if we could get him soccer shoes because he’s on the team and only has flip flops. we went and bought him cleats, when we gave the shoes to him he put his hands up the air yelling “amen amen amen amen!” i loved that moment.
i honestly don’t know what was harder, leaving the orphanage or just leaving cambodia all together. i knew saying goodbye to the kids would be hard…they kept asking when we would come back. all of them reached up and kissed both my cheeks. i had 8 different little hands holding onto my arms and legs, and trying to keep me from getting in the tuk tuk. some i had to actually pick up off my body and set back on the ground to be able to move. they were screaming “I love you mam!” as we drove away. it was heart wrenching. i hated seeing them cry. i just kept praying they wouldn’t feel abandoned. i don’t want to be just another person that comes into their life and then just leaves them. i hope they only felt love from me being there. after spending so much time with them, you start to forget the reality of their lives. but as we were leaving it started to sink in again…this is their life. this is where they live. they aren’t visiting or in a day care. every single one of them has been abandoned by the people in their lives that should love them the most. i can’t help but look into their eyes and just wonder what is in store for them. what will their life be like in a month? 5 years? when they are 30? they are so innocent and young, but have seen so much pain. they are so happy when they are running around, jumping on your back, holding on to your waist…but i don’t want to be naive. how many of them cry themselves to sleep? i am sick at the thought of them going to bed dreaming of someone to claim them. everyone wants to belong to someone. everyone wants to be cared for.
James 1:27 comes to mind- “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”
can we do this? can we step it up if we are calling ourselves followers of Christ? are we taking care of orphans in their affliction? I know that I get carried away but I can’t help but think something is missing here. right now I’m picturing baby Nicky in an orphanage. with no shoes, eating rice for every meal, his new little teeth black and rotting, wearing the same urine stained shorts he has worn the past 5 days. because this is the reality for these kids. they were someone’s baby once. why wasn’t Nicky one of those orphans? why wasn’t I? why wasn’t your child? i hope i never become numb to this reality. God’s heart breaks for those orphans a million times more than yours would for your own child if they were in that situation. can you fathom that love? i can’t wrap my mind around it. but it’s true.
so here i sit. eating my first american meal while we wait in the seattle airport. we are on our 27th hour of travel. it still hasn’t hit me that i’m going home. i wish our trip had been a lot longer. it’s nice to have everyone around us speaking english, to have access to starbucks, to use my phone. all of those nice little comforts. i can’t help but have a little knot in my stomach though. i wish i was still there. i leave a little part of me wherever i go it seems.