On Monday evening we tagged along with the OSSO volunteers to the girls orphanage. This orphanage usually houses girls age 5-21, although from what I can tell the oldest girl currently living there is 18. Our kids were warmly welcomed by a swarm of screaming girls yelling “bebe! bebe!!” (Sammy was more popular than Harmon, sorry dude.) At first the kids were overwhelmed, but Harmon quickly warmed up to playing on their swingset and after a while Sammy decided that the girls were safe enough and began playing soccer with a girl holding each of her hands (“We playin SOCCER!”). It was sweet to see the excitement of the girls towards my kids, kids that they had never met before, undeserved adoration based on nothing but an affiliation with the OSSO girls. I also received lots of hugs and love based on the same premise.
Before we went Aaron asked me if I was nervous the girls wouldn’t remember me. I told him obviously not because I was 100% sure none of them would remember me. Our last visit was in 2009, and we saw the girls one time. Before that we lived here for 6 months in 2007-2008 and I did spend a lot of time teaching a self-esteem class there, but that was 4 years ago. To my surprise a few of the girls claimed to remember me. They were 12-year-olds, who would not have come to the class, but they were girls I knew when they first came to the girls house in 2004 when they were only 4. The likelihood of them actually remembering me seemed low, but who knows. It was crazy to see these girls who had blossomed from sweet shy little girls into loud and crazy pre-teens. Additionally another 12-year-old who I knew back when she was at the baby orphanage in 2004 said she remembered me, which I believed a little more, in part because I had much more interaction with her, and probably a little bit in part because I really wanted to believe it. Some of these kids really feel like my own children, so I can’t help but want to believe it.
I remember a lot of volunteers struggled with going home, thinking that none of the kids would remember them. While I understood this and believed it was true, I always felt that even though the kids might not remember us, they would always be better because we were there. And they are. It has been such a blessing to me to be able to come back here so many times. To see the kids that I knew as babies and toddlers and little girls “all grown up” is amazing.
Last night I went to the girls house with the OSSO volunteers again, without Aaron and the kids. I went in hopes of finding some of the older girls I didn’t find on Monday, as they often struggle with boys, English homework, self-esteem, etc. and I enjoy talking to them. As it turned out there was only one older girl, and 18-year-old who I knew from way back in 2004 when she was only 10. She didn’t remember me, but I was so happy to see her all grown up, intelligent, funny, beautiful, kind, and talented. She challenged me and another volunteer to a game of basketball, in the which she and her team soundly destroyed us. Apparently if you are a foot taller and have long monkey arms, you still can’t win. Despite my lack of athletic skill and general out-of-shapeness we had a great time. I look forward to many more Mondays there with my family, and more Thursdays by myself, getting reacquainted with the girls I knew and making friends with the new ones.
There really is nothing better than seeing these kids growing up happy and thriving. They all still struggle with many problems, but I think that 2004 Kelsey would be really happy. I know 2012 Kelsey is.