Our team of volunteers arrived and got to work in the classrooms, interacting with the kids, teaching, spending time with them and letting each child know how much they were loved and valued. Reading books with children piled in our laps, lavishing love and attention on them. We played games that involved touching, we painted fingernails, we strung beads - our hands touching their hands, touching faces, pulling the kids into hugs that they quickly returned.
One child held back a bit, and as we passed out sliced oranges to the kids I approached him and extended my hand in greeting. He stepped back and slightly turned away, glancing furtively at my face to see if I was truly focused on him
One of my first glimpses of Tariku (blue shirt) at Trees of Glory care-point in 2010.
I extended my hand further and after a moment's hesitation, he reached for my right hand with his left. That's when I realized why he held back, stayed at a distance and kept his body turned away. His right arm was missing below the shoulder.
I dropped his hand and with a smile repeated my greeting, this time extending my left hand. He looked at my hand, looked at my face and then strongly gripped my left hand in a firm hand-shake and I pulled him into a hug.
Each day, I made a point to search him out, call him by name, extend my left hand and give him a hug, and he began to look me in the eye and smile a confident smile!
Tariku lives at the care-point full time. I later asked Simret (the director) about him and she explained that he was born with a withered right arm (it withers to nothing slightly below the shoulder) which was assumed to be a curse, therefore he was rejected by his family and other villagers.
He was among the first children to be enrolled at the care-point - a child wanted by nobody had found a place with Simret at Trees of Glory.
He's a sweet boy who has grown in confidence over the years and I looked forward to seeing him this year. He has become a quiet leader among the children, instinctively helping with the little ones and always quick to lend a hand (his only hand) to help with chores at the care-point.
One of our volunteers, Tammi Dorion, was looking forward to seeing him too. Knowing his sponsor family, the Klevens, Tammi wanted to deliver his care-package and personally impress upon him how much his sponsor family loves and cares for him.
Tariku approached slowly when it was his turn. And he soaked in all of the words of love and encouragement Tammi read to him from the Kleven's letter. He looked at the photos and admired the gifts carefully chosen just for him. I could tell he didn't want his turn to end. As he gathered his things and Tammi helped him put them in a plastic bag, he rose and stepped away with a big smile on his face, and then he sharply spun around and stepped back to give Tammi a big hug!
I glanced at Simret to see tears on her cheeks. She was soaking in those words too for this sweet boy. A child who came to her wanted by no one, hearing words of love and encouragement just for him.
He walked over to Simret and she wrapped him in a hug. "See how loved you are!!!" she told him. (Simret loves each child in her care like they are her own.)
Later, when I was walking with Simret, she showed my Tariku's room. "He is such a good boy," she told me. "He is always helping the little kids and he loves school." As she pushed open the door to his sparse room, she commented how immaculate he keeps his room.
Gesturing to his perfectly made bed, she explained "He makes his bed each day with one hand and his teeth!" Then she put her hands over her heart and her eyes teared up again. "I know," I told her, "You love him ... and he has found hope and love and belonging here ...and we love him too."
Trees of Glory care-point enrolled 40 new children in November and a few of those kids are still waiting to be matched with a sponsor family. If you are interested in sponsoring a child, please contact me at email@example.com. $34 per month provides nutritious food, clean water, clothing, medical care, education and Christian discipleship at Trees of Glory care-point in Ethiopia (a Children's HopeChest care-point).