This place—tucked behind a repair shop, down a muddy path—is one of those places in Indonesia that both fills and breaks my heart. You wouldn’t know it’s an orphanage with its sign in Indonesian, its house-like structure, its kids all smiles.
Technically, they aren’t even orphans—not in the strictest definition. The dads of the 13 kids who live here have all died. But their moms are still living. They just can’t, or maybe won’t, take care of them.
I’ve been coming here with a couple of other MAF wives for about nine months and our relationship has been born out of English verbs and silly songs. We teach them English, and we learn so much more.
The children sitting close, I set aside my English lessons to ask questions in their language.
“Are you happy here?”
Yes, yes, they all agree.
They smile wide and their stomachs are full from snacks at a birthday party which someone from the community threw for them right before I came. It was none of their birthdays—but it was the birthday of the child of the party-thrower, choosing to hold the party here with these kids instead of at a restaurant or a park or a home. I was touched at the good idea—of the choice to bring a party to them.
“How often do you see your mom?”
Occasionally, they say, and I press.
“Like once a month? Once a week?”
Yes, yes, they agree noncommittally.
“Are you happier here than at home with your mom?”
Yes, yes, they say and smile. It’s more fun here. More people.
I stop my questions because I can’t understand how being apart from your mother, staying in a room with six other kids could be more fun. But I recognize that I am bound by both my family traditions and my culture and I’ve never experienced poverty. I don’t know what it’s like to be hungry, really hungry, wondering if there’s enough rice for dinner.
I also stop my questions because it occurs to me that my questions could be cruel. They didn’t choose this life. They didn’t choose separation from their mom. But they choose to smile, so I smile back.
There always seems to be enough rice here. How many times have I had to stop an English lesson when a donor comes to give rice, or money or vegetables? The Muslim widow who runs the place calls the children to join her in a beautiful prayer in Arabic, their foreign words perfect in unison, thanking God for the gift.
Though I’m uncertain if their mothers love them by bringing them here, or don’t love them by abandoning them to this place, one thing I know—the community loves them.
This orphanage hasn’t had to take a single rupiah from the government, and has no debt for its building. The kids’ schooling is paid for, their clothes nice and new. I came here to offer what I could—English lessons—and have witnessed again and again what others give.
I love seeing this place where Christianity and Islam meet in their care for orphans. My heart is filled with the hope of gifts brought in abundance to children in need.
I ask the kids to stand as we finish with a song.
“If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.”
I join them as they clap, smiling wide at my chance to teach them a song as I learn so much more.