[This was previously published as a contributed article in the Aesculapian Vol. 40, No. 1, slightly modified and updated for this blog post]
It was supposed to have been the last day of school before the much awaited (and very much needed) Christmas break, but some friends of mine asked me if I wanted to join them visit an orphanage. I thought to myself, “why not?” Little did I know that this visit would change not only the way that I look at life in general, but also how our actions affect other people’s lives in particular.
The place wasn’t far, just a jeepney ride from school. I really didn’t know what to expect when we came in, not that I didn’t visit orphanages before. It’s just that sometimes, we get a little more than what we bargain for, and this was one of those times. It was their play time when we reached the place so the kids were, well, playing. In the beginning, I wasn’t really sure what I was supposed to do. In the orphanages that we used to visit, the kids were usually already around grade school age. The kids here were barely in pre-school. The resident volunteers told us that we could play with them. Most of my friends quickly approached them and started playing with them. Me? I waited. I waited and looked at the kids and wondered, “How long have they been here? Do they realize that they are orphans? What will become of them when they grow up? Does he really think he can climb that fence?” The last question at least I can answer. Finally, I decided to approach the kid who thought he was Spider-Man and smiled at him. He didn’t give me much attention though, as he was really intent on climbing the perimeter wire fence. Being the kind guy that I was, I helped him achieve his goal. It was then that I realized that he was trying to get a toy that fell on the other side of the fence. I retrieved the toy for him and probably gained his trust by doing so (but apparently not enough for him to willingly lend me his toy). The volunteers said that this was quite unusual because he doesn’t usually warm up to volunteers and visitors like us. Perhaps he was looking for a father figure or maybe because most of the volunteer workers there were females. So I realized what I was going to be for the kids. I was going to be a big brother to them, even just for a few hours that day. But it turned out to be a difficult task. It was as if these kids were like the energizer bunny. They just kept on going and going and going…
It was after my fill of kids clambering around me like I was a tree, chasing one of them only to be chased by half a dozen later, waiting patiently as another tries to impress me with his imitation of soiled laundry in the hamper, and my own imitation of a helicopter that I decided to take a break and sit at a corner. And that’s when I noticed him. Maybe because of the innocence on his face, the way he wasn’t always moving about like the rest of the kids, the way he held his arms up gesturing to be picked up, or maybe because he was the one nearest me that made me go and pick him up. Big mistake I later realized, because he never wanted to let go after that. It was then that I realized that he was, unlike the other kids, “special.” He longed for more attention than the rest of the other kids, and actually did deserve more care and attention because of his condition. It was only when John (the only other guy in the group) got him from me that I got to rest.
Luckily, soon it was already lunchtime for them. We were left to put away the toys that they were playing with – a truck with a missing wheel, a faded action hero, and some other toys that have seen better days. Some of us used the time to try our hands at feeding some of the kids. Others attempted to lull the younger resident babies to sleep, which I also tried with limited success.
After eating, it was bath time for the kids and when they smelled fresh again, it was time for their afternoon nap. And it was also our time to go. We left the administrator with some treats for the kids when they woke up. On our way back, I was thankful that my friends invited me. That day with the kids taught me something that I probably wouldn’t have learned within the confines of the lecture rooms. They made me realize to value the things that really mattered in life – a sound home, friends, and a complete family to which I belong. It wasn’t a fair trade. The kids gave us more than what we gave them. So with child-like innocence and faith, I’m praying that the future be kind to them.