29 Apr Santoshi
Orphanages have a bad rap these days.
It’s almost become a negative term. When I type the word “orphanage” into Google just now, many of the stories I find highlight the darker side of orphanage life. One of the first sites that comes up, www.orphanage.no, portrays orphan children as puppets used in orphanage scams worldwide. Two listings down: “Orphanage on Trial” in Russia. A few listings below that: a TED talk entitled “The Tragedy of Orphanages.” And the list goes on and on.
Not that some of this coverage is unjustified. Children have been taken from their families, promised education and a better life, then placed in grim fake orphanages for the sole purpose of convincing foreign visitors to give money to the nefarious orphanage founders. Perhaps a special grim chamber is waiting for these criminals in the afterlife. But for now, they’re getting a lot of media coverage.
The problem is: evil orphanages are more fun to write about than happy ones. That’s true with most all reporting. Just watch the evening news any day of the week. Fires, shootings, abductions, deaths, celebrities behaving badly…it’s all on an endless loop night after night. See enough bombs explode on TV and you might think the whole world is at war. See enough children exploited and you might start to believe that all orphanages are bad. “Orphanage, No!” as the website proclaims—though that’s a little like throwing the baby out with the bathwater…and the tub…and the house that the baby lives in.
During my time here at the Good Shepherd Agricultural Mission, I’ve been privy to many emails and posts that arrive each day, the vast majority of which are positive…but a few of which are negative. This later group echo the concerns they’ve heard in the media. They question the Shipways’ motives and believe they are advocating for children by being suspicious.
But here’s the thing…
The one constant in all of this is the children who need help, which is where all the outrage should be directed. Yes, scams should be exposed and criminals punished. But more than this, good orphanages should be identified and encouraged. Their efforts magnified. New models should be created that can be replicated. Because the children of the world need our compassion, our money, our big hearts, our full and unified attention. They need thousands of champions and continents of love. In fact, for the millions of children worldwide who, right now, are uncared for, unwanted, frightened, hopeless, trapped…they don’t need our outrage or suspicion at all. They need our action.
I am reminded of this every day at the Mission.
One of my favorite kids here is named Santoshi. She’s six, strong, athletic, smart as a tack…and she runs to me with as much speed as she can generate, launching herself into my arms in a death-grip greeting each time we meet. Her parents were both lepers in the nearby town of Bareilley, and, at just three months old, little Santoshi was given up for adoption to a neighbor, another leper woman at the ashram where they all lived. Three years after that, the neighbor fell on hard times, as lepers often do, and brought Santoshi to be with her older sister Rina (another of my favorites) who was already here at the Mission.
Now ten and six, Rina and Santoshi are so beautiful and thriving they are—all by themselves—more than enough justification for this place’s existence, as far as I’m concerned.
Yesterday, Santoshi broke her arm; her left radius and ulna both snapped near the wrist. She was climbing on the monkey bars when another child pulled her off. Nothing malicious, just a playground accident. Today she had her cast put on and was granted—as many sick children are—a pampered, lazy day. When asked if she wanted to have some children join her and watch a movie, she said no. She wanted Uncle John…which felt to me like a far greater honor than any award I have ever received.
So this afternoon, on a 103 degree day, in Rick’s air conditioned room, I watched the animated film Frozen for the third time with this tough little girl, remembering watching movies with my own sick kids, where my only goal was to make them comfortable, happy, well. I got Santoshi juice. We held hands. And as the star of the film sang, “Love is an open door!” , I thought about what orphanages really are.
All orphanages are not scams. Many caring people like the Shipways have sold everything they have, traded a comfortable life in the first world for a life of rewarding struggle so that a few lucky children can find a home. Like all homes, orphanages are places to grow; where accidents happen; where someone cares enough to get you a cast if your arm breaks; where you’re given a pampered lazy day when you are hurting.
None of this will make the evening news. Villains always steal the spotlight. But quietly, one glass of juice, one cast, one child, one hand hold at a time, the good orphanages, the real heroes I’ve been privileged to live with, keep working, keep welcoming.
Because after all: Love is an open door.