After seeing how almost 700 of the 7 million Ethiopian orphans live their daily lives, I wanted to turn back the clock to a time. My Americanized rose-colored glasses and attitude of "how bad could it really be?" were both shattered by the sights, sounds and smells of the day.
It isn't supposed to be like this. Where is the happy ending? When does the hero ride in on a white horse and solve all of the problems? After our Friday in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the world became a different place.
The care center where our son is staying is no palace. But he and 24 other children awaiting adoption share several caretakers and live in above-standard –– even if a little crowded –– conditions.
On Friday, we visited the state-run orphanages called Kolfe, Kibebe Tsehay and Kechene. Kolfe and Kechene are homes for older orphans. Kolfe is a boys' facility designed for 100 residents that now is home to 280 boys. It is not a glamorous place, but the boys have three meals a day, go to school and even have a soccer field and pingpong table to help pass the time.
Kechene was established around World War II as a hospital for the blind. It is still a nice facility designed for 150 girls up to the age of 16. But there are 255 there today.
Our agency, The Gladney Center for Adoptions, hires many of the girls who age out of the facility to work in its locations in Addis Ababa. Gladney is also responsible for all of the medical care for state-run orphanages.
And when Gladney families discovered that the child-to-caretaker ratio at Kibebe Tsehay was more than 25-to-1, they raised the money to hire enough staff to decrease that ratio to 7-to-1.
However, in recent weeks, the population at this orphanage for young and handicapped children has exploded to more than 150 in a facility designed for about 100. That ratio is 14-to-1 now, but it is still far better than before.
The tour of that facility was as emotionally difficult as anything I have ever experienced. About 10 tiny babies, some brought to the facility with the umbilical cord still attached, sleep in a room with a couple of dedicated but outnumbered caregivers. Most of the women in our group had scooped up a baby and helped feed them while tears were streaming down their cheeks.
When we moved on to the toddler room, it got no easier to bear. Children from 6 months to 18 months were lying two or three to a bed, eating from a bottle propped up on a blanket. This method of feeding almost always leads to pneumonia. But what else can be done? Feeding can't be a 24-hour-a-day process when the caregivers have only so many hands and dozens of diapers to change and upset children to calm.
The tiny smiles when attention is paid to them are sweet. There was also a little girl who would not let go of my wife's finger even though she found nothing to smile about Friday. She just wanted my wife to stay with her. She couldn't.
Then we entered the room where children suffering with HIV, cerebral palsy or other handicaps reside. I will never forget that room. The silence was only broken by a boy with cerebral palsy rocking his crib back and forth to get our attention. He smiled when two ladies near his bed reached out for him and touched him. And then we had to move on.
Older children don't fare much better. One sweet little girl was devastated to have her head shaved due to lice, scabies or some other fungal condition for which medicines are expensive and a shaved head and extra attention will cure far more quickly and efficiently.
But she didn't care about the economics of it. She was about seven and wanted to keep her beautiful hair. Her screams and tears punctuated a difficult day.
After seeing how almost 700 of the 7 million Ethiopian orphans live their daily lives, I wanted to turn back the clock to a time when I imagined things to be much better. My Americanized rose-colored glasses and attitude of "how bad could it really be?" were both shattered by the sights, sounds and smells of the day.
I left wanting my eyes to forget everything they had just seen. I wanted my mind to forget everything I had learned. I want my ears to stop hearing the cries of the orphans.
Ignorance may have been bliss, but ignorance will not solve this problem. Incredible amounts of hard work and tall piles of money may not offer a complete solution, either. But I can't keep living like I lived, now knowing what I know and having seen what I have seen.
I don't know what to do to help, but I know we have to do something. The money we throw away during one night out would bring about a positive change for weeks for these children who have so little.
In James 1:27, God saw true religion as caring for widows and orphans in their time of need. I thought I knew what that meant. I understand it differently now.
We don't have to sacrifice everything to help orphaned children in Russia, China or Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. But we should care enough to help.
If you open your eyes to the problem, I will guarantee that soon they will begin searching for a solution.
Soon after, your hands and feet will follow, putting action into the ideas inspired by what you have seen, what you have heard and what you will forever know.