Note: You may wonder why I’m doing a segment called 10 Days Without Touch, this story is one of the main reasons that I care so much about the untouchables in the world.
The orphanage looked like an unfinished hotel that was abandoned because the builder ran out of money. The grounds were not well-kept, and weeds crawled up the sides of buildings and poked through the gravel driveway. The building itself was concrete without any accents or color, and I can remember it vividly because it was so barren in appearance. You would think from looking at the orphanage that it was a morgue without any life, but when our van pulled into the parking lot smiling kids bubbled out of every doorway.
Immediately, I was pulled in several different directions as kids asked for gifts, tried to get me to say bad words in Romanian, and invited me up to see their rooms. The thought of walking into that tomb of a building seemed intimidating at the time, but these kids were so excited to show me where they lived that I had to say yes.
When I walked through the front doors I noticed an odor mixed with the cold damp air of the orphanage. It smelled old and musty, and got stronger with each passing step. By the time I climbed the stairs to the first floor the smell was making me feel sick, and that’s when I realized that it wasn’t just the building that smelled bad it was also the orphans.
Each kid took turns showing me their space. Like a good friend who just moved into a new house, they were proud and told me about everything that was special in their lives. I couldn’t understand a lot of it because they were speaking Romanian, but their joy was infectious and their gratitude humbling.
As we walked back down the stairs to play outside I heard loud music coming from one of the larger rooms downstairs. Curious, I walked into an empty room that felt more like a cave or cavern than a part of the orphanage. When I walked in I found several girls rocking back and forth against the wall. You could tell by their appearance that they were affected by mental disabilities, and my heart broke as the realization of their isolation began to settle in my gut.
I turned to one of the translators and asked, “why are these girls here by themselves?”
“These girls are not originally from this orphanage,” he explained, “they are from a different institution that shut down. When it closed, 35 special needs girls were dropped into this orphanage because there wasn’t anywhere else for them to go. Unfortunately, the caretakers don’t have any training with mental handicaps, and they view these girls as in the way. To keep them occupied, they turn on loud gypsy music for the girls every day, and let them hide out in this room by themselves.”
I couldn’t help but tear up. In America, I feel like we do a pretty good job of giving special care to people affected by special needs. Even though people with mental handicaps definitely fall into the “untouchable” category in our culture, still in America you can always find someone who will love on them and take care of them the right way.
In Romania, it was the opposite. These girls not only had no special care, but the people who should care about them thought of them as a nuisance. Instead of loving on these girls that needed a lot of special attention and love, they placed them in the corner of a cold concrete room by themselves and turned on loud music.
Instead of being loved as humans made in God’s image, these girls with significant mental handicaps rock back and forth all day long by themselves to the sound of depraved gypsy music. No one cares that they exist.
I will never forget those girls. I will never forget how hopeless I felt. I will never forget how angry I was, and yet there was nothing I could do. I remember tearing up as I went around hugging several of the girls trying to let them know for a brief moment that they were loved and that someone cared about them.
When we got back in the van to leave, my heart stayed with those girls. As I mentioned before I was angry, but there wasn’t anything I could do. I was frustrated by the fact that I couldn’t adopt them, take them home, and treat them with the special care that they deserved. Instead of feeling like I had accomplished something by spending a day at the orphanage – my mind was consumed with a question: how was a quick hug going to make a difference in the long run – how is a brief moment of love going to provide the special care and attention that these girls will need for the rest of their lives?
I don’t know if you know or interact with any people affected by special needs, but you would be surprised how far a loving hug will go to brighten up their day.
Also, check out Livada Orphan Care. I spent an entire summer in Romania when I was 18, and that experience changed by life. You should check out their website by clicking here. I was a part of the staff that ran a summer camp for orphans, and it was amazing to be able to love on them and share with them the love of Jesus. During that time in Romania was when I went to the orphanage described above, and met these wonderful girls. You could get involved by:
1.Volunteering with Livada, click here.
2.Going on a trip to Romania with them, click here.
3.Donating to support their ministry, click here.
If you care about orphans, you could not partner with a better organization. For more info, click here.
How have you served people affected by special needs? You may comment below…