People avert their eyes from things that are uncomfortable or out of the ordinary. I feel that this was glaringly true as I reflect on the first time I visited CONANI. Looking in from the street, one wouldn’t know what is behind the thick bars that resemble a prison. This street filled with restaurants, shops, and food karts galore is home to children who have no house to call their own. They are hidden from the street, confined to cribs behind locked doors.
However, contrary to the desolate appearance to a passersby, those who venture inside are greeted with the most precious smiles and biggest bear hugs. These sweet kids are overflowing with love, but rarely get the opportunity to share it. My first day at CONANI I felt that I had found my home for the next four months. I had heard about CONANI from previous Encuentro students and I always thought I would choose it as my service site as well. However, I didn’t want to blindly pick it before I weighed the pros and cons of the other sites; but when I walked through the doors I just knew. I shared a moment with sweet little Elizabeth and with teary eyes, I heard God whisper to me that I needed to love these kids because they are His. I am so thankful for the opportunity to love on these kids, but it definitely isn’t a modest mission. I have quickly learned there is a great deal of heartache that stems from deeply rooted issues of justice, quality of life, and the basic human need for love.
Justice is defined in the dictionary as “based on or behaving according to what is morally right and fair.” I think that the word justice is often casually advocated but not actively acted upon, especially in such instances as the living situation at CONANI. Justice to me is simply treating others the way you want to be treated. Seeing these children covered in unidentifiable bodily fluids, rarely getting their diapers changed and left as though untouchable in their cribs day after day is not doing them justice. Human beings need interaction, affection and nurturing. Looking into these children’s faces, I see my reflection in their eyes and can’t help but put myself in their position. If I were to ever find myself in their condition, I would hope and pray that I would have people surrounding me who love me and would want to fulfill such basic needs as I mentioned. More often than not, these children are left in their cribs staring with distant eyes, lying lifeless in soiled clothes, because their caregivers fail to see their constant yearn for affection.
In just the few days I have been blessed to spend with these kids, I have seen in their eyes their gusto for life when given the chance to live. We took a few of the bed-ridden children outside to play and the joy that ensued was precious. The little things in life are truly the biggest blessings: having a hand to hold, a partner to dance with or someone to embrace you closely. I am too blessed to be able to share these moments with these children in the few hours I am there each week.
Although I am renewed by the slightest bit of hope I can offer these kids, I can see how their caregivers are defeated by the children’s seemingly hopeless conditions. They spend each day surrounded by children that are not their own and who have serious health conditions that will most likely stay with them for the rest of their lives with little to no improvement. It is easy to get caught up in the hopelessness of the situation, but I try to hang on to hope and linger in the moments of joy. It is discouraging to think that despite our efforts during this semester that as soon as we leave the children will no longer be stimulated in the ways we have implemented. All things considered, I will choose to love each time I enter the gate and offer all that I can in the time I have with these precious lives because all people are born with integrity and inherent justice.
Steph Sehon, Comunidad 18