One Less Tear. Por favor. Quiero vivir con usted. ‘Please. I want to live with you.’ Her round, brown eyes pleaded with me. Her hands braided themselves into my skirt. Her cries followed me as the criada took her by the arm and led her back to the complex designated for three-year-olds.
Lucy was not the only orphan I met in Bolivia. There were hundreds. Orphanage after orphanage offered a new wave of begging eyes and sweet, nervous smiles; yet nothing compared to Solomon Klein.
Unlike La Villa or Mosoj Yan, Solomon Klein cared for its charges on government aid alone, with no help from the usual North American philanthropists. Children, divided by age, lived in large, sparse rooms with cribs or beds lined end to end. Cloth diapers served as clothing, wipes, and blankets.
Everything was communal; no child had a possession to call his own. Lucy was only the first child to attach herself to me. The two minutes I spent with each child were cluttered with overly affectionate, angry, withdrawn, and hysterical faces.
Solomon Klein first exposed me to Reaction Attachment Disorder. Lucy, an overly affectionate, desperate little girl, was born to a mother who withheld love and physical contact when Lucy was an infant. Her mother abandoned her a year later.
Over three hundreds orphans in Cochabamba, Bolivia alone have a similar story. Some, like Lucy, are still searching for the love they never received. The day I arrived, I might have been wearing her favorite color, or maybe my voice reminded her of a home she no longer remembers.
Whatever the case, she developed an instant relationship with me, her heart breaking all over again when she realized I could not be her new mother. For Lucy, this scenario repeats itself every few months. Coming back to the United States, back to my job at a corporate daycare center, back to helicopter parents and nannies, I realized that my experiences in Bolivia ran deeper than mere culture shock.
My small, upper-middle class town no longer shelters me from the ravages that exist in this world. This July marks a year since I returned from Bolivia. Seeing first hand the extremes of poverty raised my awareness to visions of poverty and neglect in my own town. Not every parent who works sixty hours a week is trying to make partner, some simply try to put food on the table. The ten year-old girl who stays at school until dark might be afraid to go home. These people depend on the goodness of friends, family, and even strangers to live, And while these good people still exist in the world, hope survives. For every dollar you send to Africa, one less child goes to bed hungry. For every hug you give your crying daughter, one less tear is shed. I believe that the world can be changed one person at a time. I will be one of those people.
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