Stacie Henrickson has been the Office Administrator/Volunteer Coordinator at Friends of the Orphans in the Northwest Region for just over a year. Below she reflects on her first trip to an NPH home, and meeting her godson for the first time, in the Dominican Republic.
Although I have visited and volunteered in several orphanages in Latin American and Africa, until last week I had never visited an NPH home. My fiancée, Cory, and I have been sponsoring a little boy in the Dominican Republic (Luis, age 6) for almost a year now. My parents, brother and sister-in-law, and four of our close friends also sponsor children in the DR. So when I said “I really want to visit NPH”, the DR was our obvious choice. My only hesitation was the thought of flying a combined total of 18 hours (thank you to my doctor for that nice little prescription). My fiancée on the other hand has not travelled much and definitely not to a developing country, but true to his easy-going self, he said “Alright.” And so, we booked our trip.
Ask my friends and family, or the staff in our Northwest office, and they will tell you the reason I fell so hard for helping orphans and at-risk children is: the babies. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love the older children and young adults – the Leadership Participants we currently have studying in Seattle are amazing examples of what NPH can do and what we hope for all of our children. I love visiting with the older children and getting to know them, but what gets me in my gut, in my heart, and usually in my tear ducts, are the babies (at NPH, children ages 0-6 live in the “baby house”).
I could share a million stories with you from our trip: meeting our godson for the first time (we just happened to arrive on Visitor’s Day which takes place four times a year, where children who have family members can receive visitors – we found out upon arriving that Luis has never had a visitor, not one. The joy and pride he felt showing off his visitors to everyone was very apparent, and that alone was worth the flying). Or how we sat down in the babies house our first day and within minutes had five babies braiding my hair and ten babies crawling all over Cory. Two hours later my hair was in knots and Cory’s shirt was stretched to twice its original size. He looked at me and said “You really want to be in the baby house all day every day?” And I said “YES!!!”
But the story I most want to share with you is that of Johan. When he arrived at NPH, he was four years old but looked like he was two. He had been completely neglected and did not even know how to walk. Thanks to the amazing staff and volunteers at NPH, by the time we arrived for our visit he was walking (running) all over the place, with his adorable little fists thrown up in the air for balance. He repeats anything and everything you say, and with his huge smile and raspy little voice, he was a joy to be around. The thought that without NPH he might not be around at all makes me almost cry, and feel incredibly happy with my career choice all at the same time. To me, Johan is the reason NPH exists. Whenever I need motivation at work, I will think of Johan smiling at me as I held him on the last day of our visit.
NPH was exactly what I was expecting and hoping for. The stories are true – the homes really are clean and bright, the food really is delicious and comes in generous portions, and the kids really are happy. Also reassuring, the kids aren’t perfect – they have emotions, opinions, and occasional bad days, just like kids everywhere – which lets me know there’s no show being put on for visitors and the kids feel safe enough in their environment to be themselves. It is a wonderful place, and I left feeling reassured that all my hard work really counts for something great.
Of course, the hardest part of loving the babies (besides leaving) is that they don’t understand things like distance and time. They understood that we were leaving and going back to our country, but right after they asked “What time does your plane leave?” they asked, “And what time do you come back?” Maybe the hardest part was when our little boy Luis asked, “When are you coming to visit me again?”, and when I answered “I’m not sure yet”, he suggested, “How about Monday?” So for now, I will write and send pictures and read updates about all of our babies in the DR, with the hope that on some “Monday” in the future, we can visit again.