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The Joy of Paying It Forward

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Editor's Note: This blog has been updated from its original version to better reflect her sentiments on the orphanage the blogger visited and volunteering opportunities in Latin America.

It has been two years since my visit to the orphanage but I recall like it was yesterday. The appreciation expressed by the boys who called the place home. The orphanage I visited was reflective of a ranch-style setting surrounded by dirt. There are 130 boys (ages 5-19) at this facility. Their dormitories are meager, many packed in one place, but they prance with glee throughout the compound when given the opportunity.

They come from extreme poverty or abusive families. The orphanage provides the children with life's basic necessities, food and shelter. The dormitories are run down and meals are often unavailable due to funding. School-aged boys go to class Monday through Friday and spend extra curricular hours at the home participating in a music program. Nine male tutors manage the home and care for the children, providing a stern and steady oversight but not the tender love of a mother... one of many things the children lack. Overall, the kids make the best of life, enjoying musical sessions and visitors. They take their studies seriously, live together as brothers and hope for a better future.

As I reflect back on my visit in 2009, my heart is filled with love and gratitude for the opportunity to serve and spend time with these amazing boys. Despite the poor conditions at the orphanage, the boys live with hope. They expressed such appreciation that we took the time to visit and let them know they matter. I recall a young boy, about 6 years old, making certain I had my cup and plate so I would not be passed over during lunch that day. My comfort was very important to him. Wow, I remember his smile vividly and how proud he was just to share his time with us.

All they wanted was to be loved and show love. Material comfort is non-existent and I envy them because they live without care of material things; just delightfulness for life. The thing that stands out during the entire visit and is something that I continue to ponder on each day is the enthusiasm they exude from things that we, in our daily lives, take for granted. Their joy is beautiful and contagious!

Seeing poverty on television and reading about hunger is different from confronting the effects in real life. Whenever I feel unhappy, I remember how the orphan boys yearned for love and hugs when we visited them. They would say "I love you for being here." (Which in Spanish is Te amo pore star aqui.) I still recall the tight grasps and hugs from the boys, and the tears of joy. It mattered to them, that we had come all the way from the U.S. just to see them.

This need for love is one of the greatest needs in the disadvantaged places in Latin America and throughout the world. I encourage so many of us, blessed beyond belief, to venture to these places... and receive a blessings of a different sort.

Please see the links below for organizations working to bring hope to the less fortunate:

http://www.jointhejourney.cc

http://www.abroadview.org/

http://www.karikuy.org/volunteer