The building could not have been any bigger than 700 square feet. In the small yard in the front of the property sat approximately 15 young children, the oldest only eight. As the van came closer to this tiny establishment, the children lost interest in their toys and came running towards the vehicle of unknown passengers. As I stepped out of the van, I was not approached by skeptical glares or shy movements as I had expected, but instead, I was greeted with cheerful smiles and intense and eager hugs.
The children ran towards a group of strangers with arms open wide. They greeted us joyfully, took us in gratefully, and loved on us wholeheartedly.
Although these children were among some of the most beautiful and loving I have ever had the privilege to meet, not all shared my viewpoint.
This tiny building in the middle of nowhere in Asuncion, Paraguay was the home of these 15 small children. With no family or relatives to attend to their needs, these unwanted beings were hidden far away from residential areas and placed under the care of three middle-aged women who have devoted their lives to the welfare of these little angels.
Why, one might ask, were they so unwanted? With their joyful smiles and their love of life, one might never guess the ugliness that lies below their skin.
The one thing that these children had in common was not the fact that they were the most grateful group of people I have ever come in contact with, but the fact that everyone of these 15 children was infected with AIDS.
I came to this orphanage to provide these children with some basic necessities, but little did I know, I would leave with so much more than I came to give.
I’d like to believe that helping others makes up a large part of who I am. I’ve attempted—and have failed time and time again—to always put the needs of others above my own. In moments such as taking a missions trip to poverty stricken areas of Paraguay, putting others above your self isn’t always so hard. After all, it was the whole purpose of the trip.
A trip to an orphanage is hard enough—but a trip to an AIDS orphanage brings things to a whole new level. As this was my first visit to an orphanage in general, I did not know what to expect. I had the stereotypical images in my mind influenced by ever so popular media such as “Annie,” of gloomy and rugged looking children whose hope of adoption hung by a single thread.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
During my time in Asuncion I visited a series of orphanages, each one distinct and meaningful—though none left an impact on me like the visit to the first.
So full of life, many of these children had little life left to live. Given their ages, they didn’t fully grasp how dire their situation was—although they did sense that something just wasn’t right. Case after case of neglect, displacement, and illness is bound to have an effect on a person, though, with these children, it was hard to tell.
They did not know a thing about me. They did not know anything about my past, my future, my mistakes, my accomplishments—they didn’t care. All that they wanted was to love on me, and be loved on in return. They showed me what it truly meant to put others above myself.
The splendor of these children took a hold of me so strongly. My encounter with them will forever be imprinted in my mind and heart. Never have I seen such joy in such a tragic situation. These children deserve the best, but have been dealt the worst—all the while living out life with a smile on their face.
Following our departure, little was said as we journeyed through the countryside towards our next destination. There was not a dry eye in the van as many pondered the fates that these children were unlikely to escape.
I wept for these children, but I also rejoiced with them. They did not choose such an awful fate, but they did decide to make the best out of what life threw at them.
Still to this day, almost five years later, I regularly think about these kids. I think about the selfless attitudes that they presented us. I think about the way I went there to love on them, and how instead, they ended up teaching me a thing or two about love. And most importantly, I think about the way they showed me that life isn’t always about the conscious thought of putting others above yourself, but by looking at others through the eyes of a child, it is something that just becomes a part of who you are.