Christmas. A season for celebration and endless parties. A time for reunion with families, relatives, and friends. A season for joy, for cheers, for peacemaking, and for loving. A wonderful time for every one of us who has something and someone to look forward to. A holy day in memory of the Child who is born unto us. A season, dedicated to children.
However, this is not so for the one who is uncertain as to whether he will be celebrating with his family or among strangers again. This is the season when he is not spared from his vulnerability, the hunger for being needed, wanted, and loved by his family, his desire to belong. This is a time when he is made painfully aware yet again that he is one of those “unfortunate ones.” He is a child who spends his childhood in a special home. An individual who appears to be normal, until you look into his eyes that have seen more pain than most of us. An innocent who has experienced emotional bettering that inevitably changed his outlook on life. A child who sees Christmas as a day for impersonal gifts… and nothing more.
Marie, a pretty twelve year-old girl who hoped to work in an office someday, had her hopes that she’ll spend Christmas with her family dashed. This year will be no different from the last. A volunteer has already chosen her to spend this day with them. “Yung mga mababait lang kasi and pinipili ng mga volunteer para mag-Christmas sa kanila. Noong isang taon, nag-Christmas ako sa isang malaking farm ng umampon sa akin. Kasama ko nga si Linda no’n eh. Mabait naman sila sa amin. Yung nga lang, medyo masungit ‘yung isa nilang kapatid. Mas masaya ang mag-Christmas doon kaysa dito kasi wala kami masyadong ginagawa at pwede pa kaming magising ng late doon. Lagi-lagi rin kaming kumakain ng masasarap na pagkain. Pagkatapos, pinapasyal din kami at binibigyan ng regalo. Ngayong taon naman, ibang volunteer naman ang kukuha sa akin. Masaya naman…” (The volunteers choose only the good kids to spend Christmas with them. Last year, I spent Christmas in the bast farm of my foster family. In fact, Linda was with me then. They were kind to us but one of the brothers/sisters was snobby. It is better to spend Christmas there because we hardly do any work and we can even get up late if we wanted to. We were always eating delicious food. After that, they took us out and bought us gifts. His year, some other volunteer will take me in. it was generally fun.) Is she satisfied with this arrangement? With a wistful smile she replied, “oo masaya naman ako.” (Yes I’m quite happy.) when asked about the things that make her unhappy, she sighed, “kaibigan. Wala kasi akong best friend.” (Friend. I don’t have a best friend.)
Linda was brought to the orphanage by her mother. Every now and then, her mother visits her there. Financial and family problems forced her to live with other children under foster care. When asked how she would like to spend her Christmas, she said, “Siyempre mas gusto kong mag-Christmas sa bahay namin. Kahit na hindi kasing gara sa mga bahay ng volunteer na umaako sa amin ang bahay naming, mas masaya naman kung kasama ko ang nanay ko. (Of couse I’d prefer to spend my Christmas at home. Although our house is not as grand as those of the volunteers who spend Christmas with us, it is happier in our house so long as I’m with my mother.) “where are you going to spend this year’s Christmas?” I inquired. “Sa amin, kasama ko ang nanay ko. Susunduin nga ako sa December, eh.” (At home with my mother. In fact, she’s going to fetch me in December.) She beamed.
Jessie is not as fortunate as Linda or Marie. His only choice is to spend his Christmas at the orphanage. “Okey lang naman dito. Tuwing Pasko, may mga ibang volunteers na darating at ine-entertain din kami. May mga masasarap ding pagkain, mga regalo at kung anu-anon pa. Masaya din naman dito. (It is not so bad spending Christmas here. Every Christmas, there are some volunteers who come over and entertain us. There are also delicious food, gifts and many others.) “Do you feel any envy towards your friends who have somebody to spend their Christmas with?” I asked. The answer? A toothy smile, and he ran off to play with his friends all the while shouting “Hinde!” (No!)
The Social Worker
These kids are normally left by their parents here because they are unable to support them properly. There are some cases of child abuse. There are also children who were picked up from the streets and left here by some kind-hearted people. Each child is unique. Their problems vary and the solutions to their problems are not the same either. What works for one does not necessarily mean work for another. The common denominator of these children is that they all come from broken families and all of them need special attention and care. Jealousy and craving for attention are not entirely strange things here. Admittedly, we cannon fill the vacuum that envelops them. However, selling seems to help them understand their situation. This is the time when a child is given the opportunity to open up in privacy.
There are some volunteers who select properly behaved children to spend their Christmas with them. Of course, this may elicit problems with those who were left behind but efforts are made to make them understand the requirements for eligibility to the program. This seems to be an efficient solution to get the child to cooperate and learn how to behave properly. The children who are left behind are not entirely left in want. Granted they may feel lacking and empty in one way or another, everyone still tries to provide them the atmosphere of the season. There are volunteers who help organize a party for the children who are left here. One volunteer adds, “we try our best to make their Christmas as happy as possible. Of course, there are still children who long for home. Even those who were given foster homes during Christmas long for their own families. There are others who, despite the fact that they are repeatedly abused by the family members, they still want to be with their respective families.”
“I’ve been here for only a short period of time. I stay with the children, sleep with them, and generally take care of their physical needs. During my stay here, I found out that these children are quite spoiled with what the volunteers give them during their visits. They tend to expect goodies from a visitor. They also learned to demand things which they normally don’t have.”
The center for Social Civic Action-Lasallian university network for Social Advocacy (COSCA-LUNSAD) has been very active in outreach programs. It provides the students of our university a chance to reach out to the “other side of the world.” Every effort is made to ensure that the emotional and physical needs of the children are fulfilled. With all the good intentions of the volunteers who give foster care during the Christmas season, this seems to be a drawback to the children’s behavior. Giving them a temporary home for a short period of time only causes the kids to create a need which can never be satisfied especially if the foster parents happen to be well-off. After returning from their “Christmas vacation,” the kids only feel more depressed because they now know what they are missing. This would cause them to become demanding in the orphanage.
The volunteers are mainly students who are required to participate in outreach programs by their universities. There are also a number of experts who are doing case studies on these children. It is both surprising and wonderful to be hugged and squeezed by the children as you are welcomed at the gates of the orphanage. They seem to want to hug you and be hugged in return.
Ivy, a Lia-Com student, went there to make a project about these children. After several contacts with them, she tries to go and visit them whenever she is free.
Jergen admitted that she is quite uneasy with the children. Today, she has already bought Marie a book in math upon learning that this was her favorite subject. She also goes there whenever she’s free and gives Marie the needed companionship. One young child seems to have attached himself to Oliver, another volunteer. He does not have any ulterior motive to go there in the first place. He is the one who introduced Jergen to the place. He does not bring any gifts whenever he visits, but he is nevertheless joyously welcomed by Susan every time he arrives. The reason why she likes Oliver so much must be because he gives her, and only her the attention she needs.
As I See It
According to Dale Carnegie, people need to feel important and appreciated in every way. If this applies to normal people, this need is most especially evident with the children in the orphanage.
Fine, they may need food, clothing, shelter, education, and what-have-yous, but they need to be wanted first. It is true that we can never, ever, fill up the roles of their parents, but we can try to lessen the emptiness in their hearts by being sincere to them.
Drop by an orphanage and give love on Christmas day. Whatever the reason for your visit, at least return the smiles, hugs, and squeezes they give you in the most unpretentious fashion. One ad claims that a touch soothes fear away. Maybe you can soothe their insecurities by throwing a little love in their direction.