Last night we spent much of the night at the Community Center and then off to check in on the Nursery and Childcare. There are children who come to these facilities during the day and are picked up by parents at night and then there are many who are residents of CCF and call this center home. There are little ones who have been rescued from the most bizarre, violent and abusive environments, children who have been abandoned on the trash heaps by parents who gave up, children who for some reason or another have nowhere else to be, no one else to love and care for them.
It sounds rather sad but when you get there the atmosphere is alive with learning and play. The Littlies (as we call them) from the Nursery are already fast asleep in their beds but the older ones are having a raucous night of drawing and coloring and even older ones are studying English with a teacher.
Tonight there is no lack of enthusiasm as children rush to show me their latest artwork and the kids begin to do the funniest and cutest antics hoping Scott will take their picture.
But there is a small group of the saddest of kids. A few who have their little backpacks packed with a handful of prized possessions and wait for their parents to come and pick them up -Parents who are long gone and who will never come for them.
Five siblings gather around Scott for comfort and he reassures them.
Apparently the father beats the mother. A violent environment from which the five siblings wanted and needed to escape so they were immediately brought in through the CCF Rescue Program. But they fear for their mother. The older one is not yet ten but still feels the responsibility of leaving his mother behind in such a dangerous environment.
Scott talks about possibly arranging for the mother to work at the Childcare Center. She could be an assistant and be with her own children and help with the others. Seems like a simple solution. But it remains to be seen if she will leave her drunken, wife beating husband. The abusive wife “I can’t leave him” syndrome appears universal.
There are two sisters maybe 6 and 8 who want to do nothing but sit alone and be sad. Scott tries to engage them, I try but no they just want to be sad. Sometimes it seems there is no more you can do in the moment and you know there will be more moments in the future so you let them be.
We begin to say our good byes and head out to the village but as we go through the gate Scott sees the two sisters sitting with their sad faces at the gate waiting for someone to come for them.
Abandoned there is no one who will come.
Scott, who moments earlier was willing to let them be alone with their sadness, cannot leave them waiting endlessly at the gate.
He sweeps the youngest into his arms as we all head back to the childcare center.
I reach out for the older sister’s hand. But I know that she needs more than a handhold. So I reach my arms around her and boost her onto my hip.
I am learning the magic of CCF.
I have watched Scott carry a child into the center any number of times and I have seen what that does to their experience. I have seen the sad looks go to cautious smiles, heard the sighs of relief as they relax in his arms.
There is some deep and profoundly comforting experience that comes from being wrapped in someone’s arms, of being held, of being carried.
Here at CCF the message is “I have you.” “We have you, now.” “Whatever your life before this moment, whatever your fears and pain, we have you now. You are safe, you are loved, you are protected, you are part of this wild and crazy family of kids and staff who will be there for you forever.”
The Carrying – like an unspoken ritual.
I can remember the same comfort I felt when my dad carried me as a child. I remember my family would go to the Drive In movies in the summer and on the way home I would pretend to fall asleep in the backseat of the car because I knew if I was asleep my dad would carry me into the house. I remember how it felt to wrap my arms around his neck and feel the strength of his hold. I never felt so safe.
And so it is here.
She seems big when I first pick her up. But once in my arms she seems so light, so fragile, so delicate. She does not want to look at me or engage me but she does want to be carried.
I find one of those brightly colored plastic kindergarten chairs and I sit down. She is on my lap now her arms still wrapped around me. I could stay here all night.
I now find out this is the first night at CCF for the two sisters. Abandoned and left behind – concepts that they still cannot understand.
The other kids are thrilled we are back swarming around to push their latest colored masterpieces into my hands, motley groups once more making funny faces and animated gestures to get Scott’s attention and a possible photo.
While managing the family of five, the little sister in his arms, the eager photo stars and discussing plans with the Child Care staff Scott gives a quiet command and within minutes Scott’s driver has gone to the car and returned with a bag of child sized sweatpants and CCF shirts for the newbies.
The silent one on my lap is reluctant at first but once I slip a brightly colored T shirt over her dress she has new interest. She compares her shirt to the shirts of the other kids. Once she realizes her shirt has all the design and color features of the other kids she suddenly she feels not so alone. She watches her little sister who is eager to get a new outfit and soon she is slipping on the sweatpants under her little dress and T shirt.
All the new kids now have new outfits that brighten their faces and mark them for a new future. Safety, food, medical care, a life time of education and a community of love. They will never be alone again.
The girl slips from my lap, stands to straighten her new outfit out and jumps in to join the other kids for a group photo.
And now. Now we can move on. This part of our evening is complete.