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Dr. Jane Aronson Headshot

Worldwide Orphans: Warriors in the Fight Against Loneliness

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Much of my travel to orphanages puts me in touch with loneliness. I am just back from Haiti a week ago and unraveling tangled emotions. My writing has not come to me easily.

I see faces of children... dirty, dusty, and mucous-covered faces with intermittent smiles mixed with confusing affects. I sit with kids of all ages and I am always surprised that so many children can sit on me all at once when I am just one skinny aging woman on a cement wall, or a chair, or a bench, or a patch of grass on a soccer field. There is always room for one more needy waif. I am covered with all sizes of bodies and there is not one iota of my body visible, except my head.

I try to hide from loneliness... I fight hard to not admit my personal loneliness. I feel very young when I am needy and wrestle with the usual judgments about such deeply anxiety provoking emotion. I often feel judged for my loneliness by people close to me, my staff, strangers, and by me.

A recent TEDx Talk reminded me about the disturbing impact of loneliness. The talk, "The Lethality of Loneliness" by John Cacioppo, can be easily distilled into one message: Being lonely is very bad for your health and causes sickness, suffering and premature death. This is enough to scare anyone to not be lonely... but in effect you can't be scared out of loneliness.

I spend a lot of time in my work with orphans wondering about how to get rid of loneliness for them and how to replace it with hope, which helps change one's circumstances for the better.

The programs of Worldwide Orphans are focused on that mission. I don't judge the loneliness of orphans. I understand that their abandonment and hurt inevitably led to loneliness and I am proud of their transparency and vulnerability, actually.

I don't pity them and I don't want them to be lonely, but I honor it and acknowledge it. I encourage a sweet-smelling head to settle on my shoulder or I make room for someone to nestle on my lap; the loneliness subsides, but the neediness remains and I perceive surrender and trust from the cuddling child. It is so uplifting to hold and be held; magically anxiety may subside.

We are quiet in these moments of the war against loneliness.

I am always sensitive to loneliness likely because I am filled with it, but now I fear it for the millions of kids all over the world who feel this pervasive and deadly emotion. It is as deadly as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and other chronic diseases that modern medicine spends billions of dollars to cure and prevent. No one has added loneliness to this list. It is a silent killer of hope, resiliency, and at-risk and poor children are plagued by it.

Will you be a warrior too? Join with me to fight loneliness in children forever.