The Impact of an Orphan on a Young Man’s Heart

Write an essay describing yourself as “a man for others” as is our Jesuit mission.

I used to believe that donating money was the best way I could help provide a solution to AIDS and malaria in Africa, the best way to make an orphans’ life as good as can be, and the best way to make a poor person happy. While this is true to some extent as money is needed to fund research for AIDS and malaria, and as orphanages need to pay their bills, purchase toys, and diapers, and poor people need food, I have learned through one life changing experience that giving money is not enough. I must also give of myself. In the summer of 2003 I spent two weeks in an orphanage in Nejapa, El Salvador, called Love and Hope Children’s Home. Here the group I was with and I were responsible for helping cook for the orphanage, cleaning the orphanage, getting the kids ready for bed, changing the diapers of the little ones, and working construction to build the kids a swimming pool. While these were all important jobs and necessary to the successful operation of the orphanage, I can still remember what the owner of the orphanage said to our group the first day we got there. She said that most of the jobs we would be doing would be tasks that anyone could be hired to complete. She went on to say that the orphanage has plenty of money to hire workers and that the kids have all the toys they need through the multiple sponsors the orphanage has. She said the most important thing for our group to do while in El Salvador would be to mingle with the kids and play with them, but most importantly to just simply be with them so they would know that someone did indeed care about them. It is those times that I remember best. After work, everyday, we would play soccer with the kids. One day we took the kids to the ocean, another day we took them to the mall, another day to an outdoor market. Two other trips we made included taking them to dinner at Pizza Hut and to Pops Blue Ice Cream in San Salvador. The joy and excitement I saw in the kids eyes is something I will never forget. Of these days the one I most enjoyed and have thought about many times since I returned to the States was the day we took the kids to the mall. Upon arriving at the mall we broke up into smaller groups and went walking around with the kids. I set off with two of my friends and three of the kids and we went walking around, past large shoe stores and clothing stores – some of the same brands as here in the United States of America. We entered the outdoor part of the mall and walked past more stores and some restaurants. We stopped at the rides that are common to many American malls to let the kids have some fun. The ride they all wanted to go on was a helicopter. It went up and down, pretty high in the air for just a mall ride, and even spun in a circle if you could pedal it like a bicycle. Since all of the kids were too small to reach the pedals my friends and I took turns pedaling for the kids, sending them around and around again. The kids really enjoyed the entire trip to the mall since they had never been to one before, but especially this part. At the end of the day while we were waiting for the other groups to meet up by the entrance we bought all the kids pink cotton candy. Even though we could not fluently speak Spanish to the children we had with us for the day, they had a smile on their faces the entire time. You see, these children were just happy to be held, to be paid attention to. While some of these children had lived with their grandparents or their single mothers and were only placed in the orphanage so they could receive better care, the majority of these children lived in the local city dump before coming to the orphanage. Day in and day out they would search the mounds for food and belongings, returning to their home, made of rusted sheets of tin on the side of a cliff, for the night. Loving, human contact is something that was not present at all in their lives. This entire trip to El Salvador, but this day specifically, changed me as a person. This day I successfully learned something I will never forget. This is that while money is necessary to keep the world moving, it is the moments that are personally spent, eye to eye with a person that truly matter. This lesson has contributed a great deal to how I have lived my life since this trip. Since then I have been involved in tutoring students at two local Catholic grade schools and have participated in The MetroHealth System’s Hospital Elder Life Program (HELP). This last program is most important to me as it is very similar to what my trip to El Salvador was like with the exception that HELP focuses on hospitalized patients over 65 years of age instead of children. While as a HELP volunteer I do help patients ambulate and eat as needed, the most important part of my duties, as proven by Yale University School of Medicine’s research on this program, is to spend quality, eye to eye time with the elderly patient, keeping them company and talking to them. While I still do give monetary assistance to people in need, I realize that my presence alone, which shows that someone does indeed care, is much more important. This is the impact an orphan has had on this young man’s heart.

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