Thursday, July 19, 2012

Reece's Rainbow Reunion

Today Andrea and I made our way to Washington D.C. for the National Down Syndrome Conference.  Upon checking in at the hotel we both looked at each other and said, "we should have brought the kids."  There were lots of families in the lobby with lot's of kids and lot's a special little children with Down syndrome.  There are also many teens and adults attending the conference who have Down syndrome.  We felt right at home and enjoyed that special feeling that always comes when in the presence of those who have Down syndrome.

After dropping our bags off at our room we hurried out the  door to what I considered "The Main Event".  We were on our way to the Reece's Rainbow Family Reunion.  Upon arriving at the restaurant I began to meet many people I had become friends with on Facebook, but had never had the privilege of meeting.  It was there where I was privileged to finally meet Andrea Roberts.  It was great to get to visit with her.  She has a light in her eyes and a determination in her character that you immediately pick up on when talking with her.  It's hard to grasp just how much of an impact she has had on hundreds of children and families. 

After sitting down, we started to visit with many of the other family's in attendance.  Each of them had all of their children there, many of which had Down syndrome.  It was fun to visit and see that similar sparkle in each of their eyes that I saw in Andrea's.  After visiting for  a few minutes the conversations would turn to their children.  It was then that it really hit me.  Most of these children were adopted and essentially rescued from a life of much difficulty and trial.  They now have a Mom and Dad that love them dearly.  It's one thing to imagine these children with their loving parents, but it's very real when you see it first hand with your own eyes.  They are part of a family now with big brothers and sisters and someone who will tuck them in at night and read them bedtime stories.  Someone they can depend on. 

One story stood out the most to me.  An awesome family with 2 little girls with Down syndrome shared about their "gotcha" day for one of their girls.  They woke up that morning full of anticipation and excitement.  They decided that such a day should be celebrated so they planned to bring chocolate and other goodies to the orphanage to share with everyone.  The previous days when they would visit their little girl they felt that those at the orphanage were very cold and it was possible that they didn't necessarily have the children's best interest at heart.  Upon arriving at the orphanage, one of the workers brought their little girl into the waiting room dressed in only a diaper.  The worker handed them their girl and turned around and walked out.  That was it.  No good-byes, no hugs or tears.  They left the gifts on the table and left the orphanage, never looking back.  I can't help but think of the other children that are there right now enduring the circumstances.

Not everyones story was this way.  In fact, many parents spoke of the genuine care and love that many of the workers at the orphanage have for the children.   Nevertheless, nothing will take the place of a mom's touch in comforting her child.

After dinner I left feeling a strong feeling of gratitude.  Gratitude that I get to be a part of this.  Gratitude that I am Nash's father and that he is my son.  Gratitude for the progress that has been made and the many plans for the upcoming months and years of service on behalf of the children. 

It's going to be a great weekend!

Here's a picture I got to take with the one and only Reece!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Maelie and my visit to a Peruvian orphanage

I'm back from Peru and enjoying the time with family and at work.  Although I'm back from Peru, my mind continues to wonder back to the experiences I had there.  Since 1999, Peru has been a place that I have felt is my home away from home.  I feel like I grew from a boy to a man there while serving a two year LDS mission from 1999 to 2001.  The lessons learned and experience gained while serving a mission for my church built a foundation for my life.  Many of the special things that are taking place at the moment with RODS Racing and Reece's Rainbow stem back to the time spent in the streets of Peru sharing a message very close to my heart.

Seven days into my trip I visited a Peruvian orphanage.  The morning started with me and one of my dear friends from Peru, Martin Ortiz, waking up early to get ready for the day.  I went outside hoping to beat some of the ever present traffic for a morning run.  I wasn't early enough.  An endless sea of yellow taxi's bustled through the streets of Chiclayo.  Combi music blaring from their radio's as the taxi drivers aggressively scoped the streets in hope of their next cab fare.  I decided to still give the run a try.  I found a little park that I could make loops around kind of like a hamster running on it's little exercise wheel in a cage.  It was humid and the air smelled Peruvian.  Lot's of auto exhaust, some garbage from the previous days pedestrians and of course the burning oil from the street vendors frying up a variety of different foods.  I didn't wear my running watch because this was a part of town that it could easily get stolen.  As I ran, I wondered what the day had in store.  I wasn't necessarily prepared, but I knew I was excited to forge on.

We piled into a Colectivo Taxi, which is nothing more than a special word for "get as many people in the car as possible".  Martin and I luckily got the coveted front seat with the driver.  Three passengers up front is always better than 4 to 5 in the back.  Just like that we were off to Ferrenafe to find this orphanage I had traveled to another country to see.  I've found that Peru is a lot like camping.  Everything is different than your used to.  You have all your basic necessities taken care of to survive, but a lot of times you have to improvise.  It's kind of dirty and you smell funny, but at the end of the day, it's a ton of fun! 

The drive was enjoyable.  Farmers out working their fields, by hand of course, along with many tree's and open landscape.  It was nice to escape the city hustle and bustle of Chiclayo.  I was kind of nervous and I wasn't sure why as we entered the quiet little town of Ferrenafe.  Within minutes we had found the orphanage.  It was on a dirt road in a quiet part of town.  Just a few stray dogs wandering the streets and us.  We knocked on the door and waited.  A small window on the door opened just like when Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz visits the Emerald City.  A nun peered through the small window and asked what we needed.  I found myself quickly falling all over my words.  "I'm here from the United States to see the kids" I blurted out.  She smiled and asked us to wait.  We had spoken to the head nun the day before.  She knew we were coming.  She also knew that we had asked about one child in particular.  A little girl with Down syndrome that I had seen on Reece's Rainbow.

After a short wait, the head nun opened the door and greeted us.  She had a very warm yet piercing look in her eyes.  It seemed that she immediately discerned simply by looking at us that we were there with good intentions.  She had us sit in the waiting room as she went to find the little girl I had asked about.  The orphanage was clean.  There was a good feeling there.  I knew that these kids were loved and were given the structure they deserved, but in the back of my mind I also knew that they all did not have parents to call their own.  So far, my experience in helping orphans has been running triathlons and doing work from behind a computer screen.  It was one thing to see pictures of orphans, but it was a whole different ball game actually being in their home. 

After a few moments, out walked the head nun.  She was carrying Maelie.  I had to look away because the tears were coming fast.  I composed myself and walked up to them.  She was so beautiful.  Her hair was short and dark.  The look in her deep dark eyes was pure innocence.  She wasn't afraid at all.  She had a curious look on her face as she looked at Martin and I.  Then came that smile.  Her smile made your heart skip a beat.  She was such a happy little girl.  I held her and she kept smiling and touching my face.  She probably hasn't seen a lot of tall white guys before.  We sat down and I held her towards the ground to see if she could stand on her own.  Not only did she stand but she took off running and giggling.  The nun had to chase her down!  It was hilarious!

After spending some time with Maelie, we went and visited the other children.  There were 32 in all.  It's remarkable how resilient children are.  There they are in an orphanage with no parents, yet they were all smiles.  They were supposed to be taking a nap so they were all in their own cribs.  We would peak through the door and they all stopped what they were doing and stared at us like they had been caught red handed with their hand in the cookie jar.  They were the most darling little kids I've seen!

The facilities in the orphanage were great.  It was comforting to see this.  We stopped one last time to visit with Maelie and that was the end of our visit.  The nuns were all getting ready for their lunch and it was time for the kids to take a nap.  As I left the orphanage, I longed to go back.  I knew I would regret not spending more time there, but I also knew I couldn't stay there too long as my emotions were so close to the surface.  Martin and I walked in silence back to where we would take a taxi.  I kept looking back to catch one last glimpse as we walked down the dusty roads of Ferrenafe. 

That was almost a week ago.  Many times throughout the day images of these children flash through my mind, especially Maelie.  The feelings and desire to help these children and all the others are ever present.  Visiting this orphanage made our cause very real.  I need to find a family for this little girl.  She would be such a blessing to a family.  There is something different about her.  I could see it in her eyes and felt it when I was holding her.  She deserves a good family and a good family deserves her.