Behind The Veil: Sponsoring Orphans Touches Our He
Sponsoring Orphans Touches Our Hearts
By Aesha Lorenz Al-Saeed In Saudi Arabia
“Mrs. Aesha! Khala Aesha!” The children cry with excitement as soon as they see me approaching. These are the dear orphan children that my friend Dr. Siham and I decided to meet and befriend. We asked for a group of six small boys each (the maximum amount I thought I could handle). We met them out somewhere the first time, and then learned where their orphanage was located. Now we visit them regularly on a certain day about once a month as circumstances allow. We can even enjoy outside activities with them occasionally in the future such as the Cornaish, parks, amusement parks, book stores or crafts rooms, restaurants, or suqs to have a look in the two riyal shops or ten riyal shops for T-shirts or pants. These are some of the possible places orphan children enjoy if one establishes a relationship with them.
It is not even necessary to spend money, although it is nice as an additional sadaqa or charity. The important thing is the donating of our free time. In this way, gradually befriending them, we have discovered their favorite subjects in school, preferred foods, colors, and which sports or hobbies they enjoy. Some of them even have a dream of what they would like to do for a career when they are grown.
We give first of our selves, our time, our tender loving care, and even our patience. In return after they know us they become more talkative and become fond of us (and we of them) and give us the feeling of being parents to many more children than we ever dreamed we could have had for our own!
I told them to call me Khala (Aunt) Aesha, Mrs. Aesha, or Abla Aesha (teacher in Arabic.) But the dearest voice I heard once was one who didn’t even know me yet, or my name, and yet said shyly “lady?” so politely, wanting me to notice her.
The best gift I have discovered is showing with our hearts and talking to them that we really do care about them and appreciate they themselves for their special personality.
The children come from varying backgrounds. Some were abandoned at birth in a variety of places, such as hospitals, or their birth parents have died and there were no available close relatives to raise the children. Some children are lost or abandoned during the Haj season by those whose poverty stricken countries make them feel their own blood would be better raised away from themselves in a wealthier country.
There are even the few cases of divorce or abandonment where custody is in question and they are placed there for their own safety temporarily before their case is settled in court. In some situations families come for assistance and are convinced that their children would have more regular and nourishing meals and a stable lifestyle if they stay with the orphanage. These children then visit their families on short school vacations.
Some children are adopted as babies or small children and they are raised with families who love them and care for them as their own. But most do not and live their lives with other children within the walls of the charity orphanages.
Personally I would prefer having an older child whom has already left the baby and toddling stage. Although many people do love small babies, and they are indeed a joy, an older child would already know how to talk, and be able to express his feelings and be appreciative and remember your kindness in taking her or him into your home. There is something about the eyes of a child when they look around with their curious, innocent, wondering gaze that touches my heart more often than not. People do have different age preferences, and the good thing about choosing an orphan is that you can watch your favorite age group play, and then decide if you would like to concentrate on that age group, or a little older or younger. Once you have made a connection with certain children you can befriend them and gradually enjoy their growing up years.
Jeddah has three charity orphanage groups that have as sponsor’s princes, princesses and philanthropic citizens. Among those are Jamiyat Al-Bir and Jamiyat Al-Faysiliya. The children are divided into three age groups. The women up until age twelve raise the small children when the boys are separated and sent to be raised with men. The next group is the twelve until fifteen years, and the last group is the over fifteen year olds.
Jamiyat Al-Bir in Hai Al-Zahrah District changed how they divided their girls a few years ago. Now they have mixed “family groups” (different but similar ages) instead of all the same age girls being together. There are approximately thirty-five in the baby and toddler section, and until age twelve (including boys) are about eighty-five children. The ages range from infants until twenty-four years old.
They are able to stay if they reach mature age until they find a suitable marriage partner without having to try to manage on their own, “in the outside world.” Many find permanent employment and work outside when they are grown, returning to the jamiya as a sort of dormitory. The director Mrs. Nasreen Al-Idrisi is a very efficient and helpful person who welcomed us and she encourages us to share our skills and hobbies (or playful side) with the girls or simply visit and befriend them. These orphanages are filled with wishful, hopeful quiet or noisy faces that could certainly benefit from befriending a kind woman from “the outside.” We ourselves can certainly benefit in good deeds to warm our hearts with young companionship.
The girl’s orphanage is quite nicely decorated with their paint stencil decoration looking like wallpaper on the walls. Their rooms are decorated with little knickknack items just like usual bedrooms could be found. Their furniture in nice solid attractive lightwood, with new bathroom facilities and a large sitting or play room. They are in the process of getting new sheet sets with comforter blankets, and then later perhaps curtains or matching small rugs. We had a very favorable impression of the living conditions, and are grateful to Allah and those kindhearted persons who have made this possible.
We women who have already raised our own children and miss the sound of young voices are attempting to organize some groups of about six children from the ages of eight until twelve or fourteen years. These groups would be glad to have an “auntie” to sponsor them with monthly or twice monthly visits, phone calls, possible outings and simple gifts for trying hard in their studies. We try to give them that extra boosts of confidence that, yes, a stranger can meet them and like them for their own special personalities. We also wish to give the boys that last bit of female encouragement and confidence before they enter the all men’s world.
The boys up until age eight or ten, as their case may be, (such as if they are difficult for the women to handle) are taken care of in an all women’s environment. This hopefully gives them a good nurturing foundation, but then they are sent to live with all men in another building. We feel that being cut off dramatically from the females that raised them may be sad and troubling. We wish they could occasionally see the women who took care of them as they grew, or they could write a note to them to say they still remember them (after one year for example) and that they had good memories about them.
In most cases this isn’t possible because most of the caretakers are foreign employees, but we hope with eventual Saudiasation a firmer link and continuity can be made. If the employees are changed less frequently, for example, a boy who had a discouraging day in school, or something sad happen to him may hear some kind words from the woman who raised him and he will feel she still cares to listen, and will hear some encouraging words and praise. This is an integral part in building confidence of our youngsters to perhaps become excellent parents themselves one day.
We try to see our group at least once every month and to check on them and let them know that someone on the outside cares especially for them, makes du’a (supplication) for them, and remembers them even when they are not with them.
A woman giving of her free time is an excellent pastime or alternative to working for bored or idle housewives. Up until that time perhaps they only had duties of home and family and would love to add some new and interesting element to their lives to expand their opportunities for reward and ajar.
With befriending a girl, a woman the friendship may even be able to last lifelong. In sha Allah you will even still be there visiting years from now and be able to congratulate her if she marries and then has children of her own. Imagine her possible ringing you up on the telephone to say she has found a job, perhaps teaching, perhaps helping a nice family raise their children. How proud you would feel she is earning income in a good halal way, and that you yourself have been a good example of a religious woman to her. Think how heart warming it would be to have her call you on a Friday to ask about you or say she misses you.
Remember however, everything good takes time to develop and build. This means to develop a good close mother-daughter or auntie-child relationship bond you must be faithful and constant. It’s undesirable and cruel to go and see them, ask their names and ages, and then never see them again. This is more injurious than helpful. Many people have been passing through their lives frequently. They are probably a bit insecure from the caretakers that have come and gone suddenly in their lives. It would be helpful if they knew when one is leaving so they could get used to the idea gradually and prepare in their own minds for it.
They would find it interesting to hear any stories from when you were a child, what your own children or family looks like or studies, for example. Hopefully they will see all the good in you, because they are almost like sponges, or recorders learning from you or television and imitating what they see around them.
So join us if you wish to touch your heart with spending time with orphan children instead of other useless activities such as shopping too much or gossiping, as bored women tend to do. If you care for another you will be cared for. In nourishing another’s heart and soul you yourself will find nourishment in sha Allah.