Part of my weekly routine includes going to Senderos de Amor to visit the special needs boys, who previously lived in Nueva Esperanza. Since Lizzi’s family had permitted me a month with her, I had been taking her along with me. I remember the first times I had ever seen these boys three years ago. Back then, Jesus was one of them. It’s incredible to see how much they have grown with the right amount of love and care, especially Jesus!
With Nueva’s closing, ROOM made it their mission to keep the special needs boys from moving to another public orphanage in Tegucigalpa. With the help of many, ROOM found a new home for these handsome guys in a very generous orphanage, Senderos de Amor! To make sure all is running well and to make sure the special needs tia’s (the women who take care of the special needs boys) have all they need, we make weekly visits to them.
I remember the first time I met these boys. I remember uncomfortably walking into the room, saying a few words of greeting to them, just barely lending a hand to them, in fear that they might bite me or pull my hair. Even after months of volunteering in Nueva Esperanza, I was still unable to make real connections with these boys. My judgments about them clouded my ability to love them.
Special needs children are often out of the comfort level for the majority of people. We see special needs children and we walk the other direction. We’re conditioned to use hurtful words like “retarded” and believe that these children are less in need of love, or less deserving, than others. We let others do the job of loving them for us. We’ve grown up generation to generation too uncomfortable to try to reach out to them. We let ourselves believe it’s too difficult a job, that they’re too difficult of children, or that they wouldn’t even be able to appreciate our love anyway.
Even as I go weekly, I have a hard time getting over this stigma. I have a hard time staying for long periods of time. I give into my comfort and allow little interaction time. However, with Lizzi here things have changed.
As we walk into the special needs room twice a week, Lizzi runs up to sweet Alexis (pictured above), gives an ear-to-ear grin, and shouts “Hola!”. They’ll spend the next half hour giving high fives, naming their body parts, playing with whatever toys are around, and hugging. And then Lizzi will go give Jason a kiss. And then she’ll go dance with Juvencio. And then she’ll give Adan a toy he threw across the room, back to him. And then she’ll go talk to the Tia’s. And then she’ll make faces with Giovanni. And so on, and so on.
Lizzi loves these boys with all of her heart. They are no different in her eyes than any of her other friends. They’re a little bit bigger, they have a little bit different way of playing, but they’re her friends, and she loves them. She’s too young to have judgments against them. She’s too young to have a stigma about them. She’s too young to think they will make her uncomfortable, or that they’re too difficult to be around.
She just loves them.
How beautiful would it be if we could all be like little Lizzi? How beautiful would it be if every child could grow up like Lizzi is right now, loving on these kids weekly?
Trust me, I understand it’s hard to break the stigma. I understand it’s out of your comfort level. I’m there, right now. Every day it’s a struggle to relearn how wrong my previous views were. Every day I need to remind myself how gentle Christian, how precious Ronaldo is, how big Valentin’s smile is, and how they are way more than deserving of my love.
Let’s all go back to being two years old and relearn with Lizzi. Let’s put our children in a position to learn the right way. Let’s make it our comfort zone to love everyone without limits. There is no reason these children should be out of our love’s reach, ever.