I try to get to know the president's daughter better and we play with some of the toddlers. I wave and say hello to the youngest bunch of kids sleeping and half awake in their cribs. They had air conditioning and clean beds, a couple of older women as nannies, taking care of them and cleaning and washing. There are cuts, bites, and minor skin rashes on most of the children.
One little girl saw that I was standing next to her crib, got up, came towards me, and just hugged me and put my arms around her and made me hug her back. I was surprised by her proactive action. It was such a simple request but it screamed with thirst and hunger for love. She didn't want to stare at me for a long time before approaching me, she didn't want to say anything (she was rather young to say too much anyway), she didn't want to play, she just wanted to hug. To have human contact. Unabridged, unconditional, love and contact. I didn't skip a beat and got right down to it. I hugged her for at least 30 minutes, fidgeting with her, playing with her, and mainly just good ol' hugging. I was humbled but also proud that I, a stranger, could do that much for a toddler, to hug her as long as she wanted, to give her all the hugs she could ever need. But the problem is that I can't give her all the love and affection and contact that she could ever need. I think back to April when I attended the Women in the World Conference in NY and what Dr. Jane Aronson, Founder and CEO of Worldwide Orphans Foundation, said.
In a dark performance chamber with the spotlight solely on her in the world famous Lincoln Center, Jane asked us to close our eyes and imagine this:
Children lie alone, languishing, rocking back in cribs, never held or spoken to as they are fed.These words popped up in my head when I was hugging the little girl, and I wonder how many minutes of human contact she gets each day, how many times a day someone holds her lovingly, how many times someone's told her they love her.
When I turned around to look at the small child in the crib behind me, I saw a chubby little child lying on the bed, curiously looking at me, or at nothing, I couldn't tell. I started to tickle her, when I realized what her shirt read. Someone who thinks I'm very special went to Surfers Paradise (Australia) and got me this t-shirt.
I stopped and thought about the weight of that t-shirt. In truth, probably no one who thought she was very special got her that t-shirt. The center probably buys children's clothing in bulk from some sketchy wholesale place in Shanghai. And knowing that made me so sad. She would never know the irony of that shirt, and I'm probably the only one who will ever notice it. I told her in words that she could not understand that she was indeed, very special, nonetheless. If only she knew that... Except in a center that claims to provide rehabilitation and treatment to disabled orphans but in fact just takes the money and keeps the children alive to get the next payment, she is treated as anything but very special, living in a place that is anything but paradise.
On my way out at 3pm, well after nap time was over, the lobby is full of another class of older toddlers, lying and sitting mindlessly on the broken couches and floor mats while two nannies watch over them. Two of them were happy to see me and gladly escorted me to the door. It felt so heavy leaving a place, thinking that I get to leave and they don't.