For many people who come to visit the ministry something interesting happens—on the first day there is inevitably a child on the street, at the school or at the children’s home with whom they make an unexpected connection. Something catches us…
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It could be their beautiful smile, mischievous personality or maybe the way they immediately ask “what’s your name” and won’t let you go until you answer about a 100 other questions. Maybe it's the way they run up to you and give you a high five, or grab your leg not wanting to let go and then hold up their hands begging you to pick them up. Maybe it happens when you do pick them up and they just lay their head on your shoulder and totally relax like they could spend the next few hours just like this—not moving an inch. From that point on, whenever they see you, THEY COME RUNNING and your heart melts. The connection has been made, and as you leave this country they will be on your mind and many times afterwards. There might even be tears that get shed on that last day before leaving the Philippines.
There is a child like this for me in the Children’s Home—"Toddler R". He is almost six years old but is the size of a 2- or 3-year-old. Most people who go to the home are drawn to R. His smile is contagious and within minutes of coming to the home, he is begging you to pick him up. He doesn’t talk at all and you immediately notice a big wound on his head. But there is one thing that especially stands out to you—he is SO HAPPY. You wonder what type of life he has had and what has made him such a happy child.
If only you knew the whole story…
"R" comes to the home
About five months ago "R" was brought to the Children's Home by his mom. He was a very different child, sick and unresponsive. As you can see in the picture here, he was extremely malnourished. Compare this with the picture above... Yes, they are the same child with only five months between the pictures. He was brought to the doctor for a check-up—double pneumonia, a collapsed lung and severely malnourished. We cared for him at the YMC (our ministry center) for three weeks with the help of many volunteers who were staying there at the time. Slowly R started to brighten up a bit at the YMC, but nothing like the transformation that happened after he was transferred to the Children's Home. It seemed like something happened inside of him. He finally had a family to truly care for him.
A few days later the mom notified us that she had an 11-year-old daughter that she wanted to give up to the home. This girl was currently running the streets of Tondo (the poorest area of manila). We immediately jumped into action because we know what would likely be ahead for a young girl on the streets without a family to care for her.
In 2009 our family was introduced to the Tondo area by Pastor Ramil. Ramil had so much love for these street kids whose parents abandoned them. I took this picture on the way to the train station as Pastor Ramil described how many kids who live on the streets in Tondo sleep during the day so they can stay awake at night; they know the risk of sleeping at night—likely being kidnapped and taken advantage of or even sold. He described to us how many times kids would just disappear and they had no idea what happened to them. You notice the cup with some change in it? This girl was taking care of her 2-year-old sibling by begging in the train station. We did not want this to happen to R's sister.
Not 1... not 2... but 3 children needed help
We were able to find R's sister in Tondo, but we knew that he also had a younger brother who was sick. We spent the day convincing the mom to let us also care for the brother. The sister was in reasonably good shape for living on the streets but his brother was not.
He was around 10 months old and we brought him for a checkup. We had an appointment for the next day to get the results. After leaving the doctor's office, the doctor called and said that we needed to get him admitted to a hospital that night or he may not make it to the next day. After trying two hospitals and them telling us they had no room, we finally brought him to a better hospital. That ended up being God's way of saving this child's life. The hospital had few patients there—primarily because the hospital was new and more expensive; this worried me a bit since we were short on funds. However, because of this there was no wait to get him in. Within minutes, the doctors and nurses were in high gear because his blood oxygen level was at 55%! Yikes. A quick search on the internet about blood oxygen and hospitalization shows how critical his case...
Patients with pneumonia and blood oxygen saturation less than 90% are usually hospitalized. Yet, results of new study suggest that the threshold for hospitalization should be raised to less than 92%.
This little baby had double pneumonia and active TB. He was admitted to intensive care and was in the hospital for over a week; he then lived at the YMC for another three weeks before being cleared to be able to live at the Children's Home. He is now thriving in the infant area of the Children's Home, enjoying his new "brothers and sisters" and bringing a smile to those who see him.
But this story goes much, much further back
God's plan and protection for these three children goes much further back, from before "R" was even born.
"R" has a brother named Matthew. I met Matthew when he was six months old. Our family had gone to Tondo to work with Pastor Ramil. We climbed to the top of Smokey Mountain—an area of Tondo that used to be a dump for Manila garbage. The "mountain" is 50 years worth of garbage. The dump has been closed for 30 years and now people who are ultra-poor live on top. As we started to help with a feeding effort, a lady came to the line carrying her 6-month-old son. He was skin and bones. We were very concerned and felt like if we didn't do something, this child would die. We debated if we could bring him to the hospital, but since the mom was opposed to that, we decided to go purchase formula for the mom, enough formula for two months.
Two weeks later we came back to the site and wanted to go visit Matthew. As Pastor Ramil translated for us, we found out to our horror that the mom had no formula left. She told Ramil that she gave it to her other children because they wanted some. The neighbors interjected that she had used the formula for her coffee. Meanwhile, this baby was getting worse. It made us sick. How could we help?
When helping hurts
I have come to believe that what actually happened to the formula was much different. Over the years we have tried to help. We bought more formula, purchased medicine, supplied food. We have brought teams who also have seen Mathew. Our hearts were torn to see the condition of the children; the mom has nine kids. Almost every team would want to help and give money, food, medicine—anything to help these kids. And with the best intentions, our efforts to help caused much long-term damage. The mom learned a formula: "sick babies = people helping her = money". We created dependency in her. When we gave formula, I now believe that she sold it to make money. Every effort to help re-enforced the formula. As teams would come to do feedings, I would see the mom come out to "show" her sick babies to them in an effort to get more.
Enters baby "R"
Two years after meeting Matthew we met his brother, baby R. Holding these two malnourished, sick and lethargic babies was more than we could bear. We wanted to do more. We wanted to get them into the Children's Home. After a call to the Children's Home, we found out that unless the government stepped in, or the mom gave the children up, there was nothing we could do. The mom didn't want to give them up—we now believe we know why: sick babies = money—and the government is totally overwhelmed with need in Tondo. Why step in for these two kids when there are 1000s of others in just as bad or worse situations.
Matthew and his older brother
As people came to help with the feedings, many would take pictures of Matthew (like the two above). After two years, another children's home came in and convinced the mom to let them take care of Matthew and his older brother, but she refused to let them take baby R. I guess she needed to keep one sick baby at home to help with her "fundraising" efforts. Matthew and his older brother have thrived at that home and are doing well; but baby R was left to continue his life on the "mountain". Soon his mom got pregnant with baby #9, R's brother. Yet another child who would have to endure much on top of smokey mountain.
God protected "R" and brother and sister for two more years
Two year after Matthew and his older brother were rescued, God orchestrated events to bring these three wonderful children to our Children's Home to be loved and cared for. In the time in-between, there were many more people who tried to help. Although teams and individuals that came and gave to the mom may have contributed to her becoming dependent, and she may have used/abused the things that were given for her benefit rather than for her children, it is also likely that these children are alive today only because of the many people who cared enough to do something. If you were one of those people - THANK YOU! Your caring made the difference for these kids.
Pray for the future
"R" and his brother and sister are in our Children's Home under a "temporary custody" agreement with the mom. She has not given up rights to them. There has been no change in her living situation, and these kids being returned to her would not even be an option. Pray that we would be able to work with her, the husband and DSWD (Department of Social Welfare) to find a long-term solution for these children.
If you only knew the whole story... (Part 4, 5,....47)
This is the story of just three children in our Home. Besides R, his brother and sister, there are 47 other children at New Faith Family Children's Home... and each have their own story. If you included those children who have moved through the home and have now been adopted we would have many, many more stories. These amazing stories are only possible because of people like you, who have their hearts touched and follow through to help us make this possible.
Thank you for all you have done to make this story a reality!