This photo is the moment I picked up Julius for the first time. We were there to remove him from his critical situation and take him to The House of Hope; SERV International’s Children’s Home in Lodwar, Kenya. Julius was an orphan. I immediately looked into his eyes (that’s what I had always done in the U.S., engage with a child by making eye contact); this was different. He was different. I panicked inside. I’d thought this moment through a hundred times. I had no idea…
I had no idea how it would feel to pick up a 5-year-old boy who weighs what a typical American toddler would weigh. I had no idea how his bones would feel in my arms. I had no idea that he wouldn’t have eaten in over 36 hours. I had no idea how it would feel to look in his eyes and see nothing. There was no semblance of emotion; not even fear, nor sadness. I wasn’t sure what to do, I couldn’t communicate with language, so I followed my instincts and held on tighter. I could tell that Julius was not used to being touched gently and with love. Within minutes Julius locked his arms around my neck and didn’t let go.
We spent the rest of the day picking up other orphans who had been identified as being in critical need. We would bring the caretakers food and they would thank us for taking the child for whom they could not provide. Typically, the youngest orphan would be the last to receive food, water, or clothing, so they would be the ones we would take. I wish we could save them all.
I placed his first ever pair of shoes on his feet. He drank his first sip of clean water from a water bottle and ate his first bite of fresh watermelon. He would finally have 3 meals a day, a roof over his head, a bed to sleep on. He would have an education, medical care, church, and love. For a child in the unforgiving and drought-stricken desert of Lodwar, Kenya, coming to SERV’s House of Hope is like winning the lottery.
The older children welcomed the new, young orphans in the most awe-inspiring way. It seemed to me that they remembered what this day was like for them, years and years ago. The older children ran up to the youngsters and talked to them, showed them around, hugged them, sang to them, even helped them set up their new rooms. This was truly one of the most touching things I’ve ever witnessed. It was beautiful!
Fast forward 10 months, the experience was so impactful to me that I jumped on the opportunity to go again. Not only would I be honored with another chance to rescue more children, but, I would get to see Julius again. I wondered if he would remember me; if I had made an impact on him. Upon returning, I saw a completely changed boy. A happy boy. A healthy boy. As if seeing him happy, healthy, and thriving wasn’t enough; the countless smiles and unsolicited hugs I received from him melted my heart. I am part of his story.
I am endlessly grateful to SERV International for the opportunity to change this young man’s life; and, to change mine.