As the gates of Cottolengo were opened upon our arrival, the beautiful smiles of the young orphaned boys and girls welcomed a group of 10 university students and young professionals. Racing bikes along the long stretch from the main house while others running alongside us we strolled to meet the care takers of this place, one could obviously feel the liveliness in these kids.
We were humbly welcomed to Cottolengo children’s home in Karen by one of the sisters in charge of the place and a group of young lads and ladies aged between 10 and 14. Carrying with us a sack of shoes, sugar, sweets and unga we were quickly shown a place to put these items. The sister then gave us a quick background of the orphanage.
Shortly after, we were taken to the area where the infants are kept. These babies range from 1 to 3 years, some just learning how to walk and others how to talk. These little angels glimmered with excitement as we emerged from around the corner. At that age, seeing a stranger, I used to run away but these babies were special, with open hands and no hesitation, they came to these father-like figures.
I spotted a baby closely studying the bearded face of one of the guys which sent the room up into a hearty laughter. None of us had had any serious experience with children, so one could see the difficulty in handling these delicate flowers.
As the day went by the babies started to grow hungry and the big moment came: it was time to feed. This was an uphill task for many of us. As inexperienced as we were, we got ready for the challenge of a life time. We were escorted to the dining room, each of us carrying “his baby”. We were then each presented with a spoon and bowl of mashed food.
In some corners of the room tension built because it was a first-time experience for many. For the personal safety of the author I will not mention any names. Soon we started the feeding and the little boys and girls began to receive spoonfuls of mashed food one by one from their respective “dads” and as time passed on it got easier for everyone. It became a moment of bonding between each man and his child and before we knew it they had finished and their little stomachs bulging with satisfaction gave the “dads” satisfaction as well. Anyone could see the relief on the faces of these young men. “Unbelievable, I never thought I could do it,” someone exclaimed. After the meal, the caretakers took the babies for a diaper change and asked if they could have any volunteers but we all politely declined.
As we left the ladies to perform magic with diapers, we had a tour of the place and got to see the other side of the orphanage where the slightly older kids slept. It was a well-designed and thought out place which gave a homely feeling. Then we had a brief chat with the sister who revealed to us that most the kids are HIV positive children. This statement gave a whole a new meaning to our visit. The moods changed slightly because these children look so alive one can hardly think they are not well. Our hearts sunk not with fear, but with pain.
The evening started to set in and it was time to go. A few of us had the chance to go and say good bye to the babies. It’s difficult to explain the wonder God has created in children. To experience this you have to go see it for yourself. It was a turning point for many of us but one thing is certain: we will surely return to visit these kids. There is joy they filled us with that can’t quite be explained.