Husband and I have known since year one in DR that we wanted to take our kids to the yearly Aldeas Infantiles orphanage Christmas visit organized by the middle school National Junior Honor Society. It became even more possible, last year, when Husband became the advisor for NJHS* and actually do-able this year, now that our kids were older. Find more information about Aldeas Infantiles SOS.*
Pulling into the orphanage for a Christmas visit would have been special enough. Some of the kids, upon seeing the bus, began to run to the gazebo where we were hosting the event, screaming to the others that we had arrived. Some tried to play it cool but couldn’t hold in their genuine excitement once they were opening their present. But more special was pulling up with our kids and being able to share this with them, to explain what we were doing and remind them – and myself – of how lucky we are to have what we have. In that situation, I couldn’t help but look around and question life. How long had that teenage girl been here? Would that little boy grow up here? What would happen to them later on in life? It makes you squeeze your kids a little tighter.
But there’s beauty to be found too.
The kids, having only each other, become a family. The older girls would fix the younger girls’ hair. The younger boys would ask the older boys to help put together a new toy. All of them played together – including one another and letting other kids play with their new presents. And real beauty was watching all of the kids, including our NJHS kids, play together because life for all kids should be this simple: if you give kids a ball…they’ll play.
I was happy to be there, to help, to give. But it wasn’t easy to explain to Daughter that we were here to help and to give. After all, for a 4-year-old, a wrapped Christmas present is still a wrapped Christmas present. In the midst, of all the kids opening their gifts with excitement and anticipation, Rafa found herself next to some older girls. She eyed their present in that classic toddler stare down, not knowing that it isn’t polite to stare. When I got back to her a few minutes later, she had a box on her lap; I assumed they were going to play with her. It turned out, one of the girls had given it to her. I looked at Rafa not sure how to approach the situation. She knew what was coming; she knew I wouldn’t let her keep it.
And the girl that gave it to her knew too; she looked at me and said sympathetically, “Ohh. Let her keep it,” feeling sorry for my daughter. My heart could have exploded with love at that moment.
As was expected, Rafa began to cry. There was no way for her to understand the gravity of that moment, that a girl who would most likely not get anything else for Christmas was giving up her present for the happiness of another, a little girl she didn’t know. It would be the beginning of a lesson that both of my kids will hopefully learn in our life abroad: that we have enough because we have each other.
That day was a quiet way to open my heart to Christmas, the real meaning of it. All too often I hear others grinch around, complaining that the holidays are about presents and bows and spending. To those people I say this: that is the Christmas you have made for yourself because my Christmas is much more than that. The Christmas I know is not about presents but about giving. The Christmas I know isn’t about bows but about tightly wrapped hugs. The Christmas I know is about spending, not money but time and moments with the people who make our homes warm and full.
Take the time in this week leading up to Christmas to remember what this time of year is really about.
~ UNTIL THE NEXT BOTTLE ~
- Aldeas Infantiles SOS has 3 locations in DR. We visited the Los Minas location.
Background on the Visit:
In November, NJHS begins by printing out “angels” and making sure that every angel is taken by someone at the school – either a teacher or student and the angel gives the information needed to know who they are buying for. I might pick an angel for a Josefina, a 4-year- old girl. Husband might pick an angel for Rolando, one of the drivers of the orphanage, an adult male.
Each “angel” then buys a gift for their recipient, wraps it, and turns it in.
It sounds simple but organizing an entire school of people to buy gifts for over 100+ people at the orphanage is no simple task. With the aid of the advisors, the NJHS students are encouraged to run this whole event from start to finish. I’m biased because I had many of these students last year, but boy did they show up and make this thing happen.
For weeks during their lunch periods or after school, they came in to Husband’s classroom and sorted through presets, checking off the list, organizing the gifts, and making sure each and every person on the list had a present for the day of the visit.
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