This History of Little Eden
Not very many people know the story of Little Eden or really what it is for that matter. As I began my day, all I knew was that it is an orphanage for abandoned children–but it is so much more than that.
Little Eden started as a daycare by a woman named Domitilla Maria Rota Hyams who took in her close friend’s children with disabilities. This occurred during apartheid so it was a majority of white individuals but when she started receiving blacks she could not turn them away. I think this was very brave of her to do as many people were not accepting of others during this time. However, she deeply believed the children were being handed over to her by God and she could not say no–she noticed no racial differences in her vision. I think if you love children so much to be doing this, I don’t think it matters the color of their skin, and as we experienced today, it is hard not to become attached.
The individuals placed into this orphange range from age 3 to age 63. About 200 of them do not have families and were abanonded, thus placed here by social services or the government after being assessed by a doctor. I was very surprised with the upkeep of the facility and how many resources they have. After working at a non-profit organization last summer, I know how challenging it is to be able to raise enough money in order to attain suitable resources. As Kristyn had mentioned to me, she was very surprised by the fact that each individual had their own wheelchair who needed one, as well as a bed and stuffed animals. I remember back to my childhood and remembered my stuffed animals and I was happy to see that despite their abandonment they could always look to their stuffed animal for a sliver of comfort.
Interacting with “Inspiring Souls”
There is a small percentage of families that come and visit and take out their relative during holidays, which I believe counts for something. As my grandmother suffers from Alzheimer’s, she no longer recognizes me or can hold conversation which can make it frustrating and challenging. Although to some it may seem like visiting just for the holidays is miniscule considering its their child–I can understand and can relate on some level. It takes a toll on you mentally to try and deal with something you are not taught about or trained to deal with. Those families have not given up, they merely want the best care for their loved ones and look to Little Eden for that support. Individuals are placed there due to intellectual disabilities, as well as birth defects, and accidents. The most alarming reason was due to abuse. It was saddening to see these smiling faces that could have once been abused. I thought about how anyone could abuse a small defenseless child and it broke my heart.
I won’t lie to you, the second our tour guide Nichollette took us behind the gates to begin our tour, I was immediately turned off by the smell. It smelled of baby formula and hospital food. As we rounded the corner to see our first room of orphans I wanted to immediately turn around. In that room sat around 25 individuals who were all in wheelchairs. Their disabilities ranged from having epilepsy to having down syndrome. Some of these individuals were older than I am but had a weak, brittle body, expecting them to be no more than six years old. This sight overwhelmed me mentally as I was utterly speechless and unsure as to how to react. As Professor Gallay had mentioned afterwards–us timid ones stayed near the back wall merely as observers. However, once we were allowed the opportunity to interact with them, I was so happy I opened up.
At first it was challenging, many of them cannot speak or communicate in any way and I was nervous approaching them. I was unsure how to act towards some as they were blind and/or deaf. I started mingling with the individuals in the wheelchairs and luckily, I found a friend and we bonded for awhile. The only words I could make out were “how are you”. Although we repeated the same phrase over and over again to one another–it was his smile that made me not lose interest.
His face lit up when he was presented with stickers and it melted my heart to make him smile. When taking pictures, he showed nothing but happiness as we showed him what he looked like in a picture. Later that day I reluctantly ended up feeding him and I was so glad I did. Despite the fact that I was nervous and intimated at first, I knew I had to make the most out of the experience and I think the experience was worth it. I came out of my shell and I think that is an important goal to achieve on this trip.
Looking back on today’s Little Eden adventure, Lucy Slaviero (CEO of Little Eden) was right when she told us that society doesn’t expect these individuals to provide anything to society but they do have the power to lift one’s soul. Even though a majority could not speak, a smile is a universal sign for happiness and it is such a nice feeling knowing that I helped brighten that individual’s day for a short time period. The workers at Little Eden said afterwards that the children were so incredibly thrilled we were there which makes it even more special that they appreciated it.