It had been two and a half years since I had volunteered at the orphanage in Guatemala. When I went back for a visit earlier this year, I remembered how much I had enjoyed working with those kids.
When we visited this February (see the photo above), I realized that it had been almost four years since I had begun volunteering at the orphanage. So many things had changed. The building, for one, had a new addition, and the boys and girls were now living in separate wings. And there were a lot more kids. The orphanage had previously been financed by Americans who were “paying” the orphanage to take care of their soon-to-be-adopted kids. But now that foreign adoptions had been closed, the orphanage had had to come up with a new way to support the orphans. So, they had implemented a sponsorship program: an individual or family could choose to “sponsor” an orphan each month. (It was similar to World Vision’s child sponsorship program.) And it had been effective; the orphanage was taking care of more kids than when I had volunteered there.
I could also tell that the children were being raised with more structure. There was a schedule and an organized way of doing things, and the kids were no longer allowed to freely roam around. I assume that, as the orphanage expanded, the staff had realized the need for that structure.
I couldn’t believe that the babies who had once needed me to spoon-feed them their lunch were now in elementary school. And other kids who had once been rambunctious were now sitting quietly, doing their homework.
I opened up my bag of toys and sat down on the floor with the little girls. I didn’t have time to do one-on-one therapy sessions with any of them, but I tried to focus some undivided attention on a few girls. One of them had just arrived from a hotel, where she had been abandoned with two of her siblings. She seemed sad and withdrawn, so I spent a few minutes talking to her and playing with her. Then a social worker took her away to interview her, because she was the oldest of the abandoned siblings. Even though the little girl seemed only about seven years old and Spanish wasn’t her first language, the social worker hoped that she would be able to find out more of the story.
A wave of sadness swept over me as I realized that most of these kids would never get adopted, even the ones who were told that they would get parents. There were American families who had started the adoption process years ago, back when international adoptions were open. Some of them had already visited the kids here and assured them that they would one day belong to a family. But after Guatemala changed its adoption laws, those parents had been told to give up. (And very few Guatemalans are interested in adopting.) So, these kids would most likely remain in the orphanage until they become adults, at which point they would need to fend for themselves. Hopefully, they would find sponsors to help pay for higher education or vocational training, so that they could have a better chance of finding employment.
I was thankful for the opportunity to see these kids again. Hopefully, I’ll be able to remain a part of their lives, even if it’s from a distance: either by reading updates on the orphanage website, keeping them in my prayers, or sponsoring them as they reach adulthood.