By Jessica Risinger
We drove to the care point to meet over 70 children for camp. It was a cool morning, but you wouldn't know with so much energy and life in one place. The children sat according to their assigned color teams, eager to start the day, giggling together. I was greeting my team, the green team, when I found Charles*. He was a small, shy boy. "How are you?" I asked. I could barely hear him say “good”. I touched his face as I spoke to him. "Smile" I asked, but he would not.
We led the children out for breakfast. After they received their tea and bread, they returned to the church. I scanned my group, but Charles was gone. I found him sitting with boys on the red team, in a chair holding his buttered bread in his lap. He was breaking off pieces and reaching down to dip them into his cup of tea on the floor. I took his cup and reached for his hand, leading him back to his seat. We sat next to his neighbor, Eve*. I held his cup as he continued to break his bread and dip the pieces into the tea. His small hands were covered in butter and red sweatshirt covered in crumbs. Eve only ate half of her breakfast, knowing Charles would still be hungry. He took the bread with peanut butter she offered and continued to dip pieces into his tea. As the three of us sat, my heart broke. I thought about what life must be like for them beyond the safety of the care point. I asked their ages. She was 6; he was 4. Neither finished their tea. Eve asked everyone near her if they wanted it. She has so little yet is eager to share.
I took their mugs out to be washed. When I returned, Charles had gotten up from his chair. I called to him and held out my arms. Still shy, he came to me and held on tightly. “Smile” I said again, "just a small one" and I touched his dimples, but he would not.
The program would start soon, so we went inside. We sang a song where the children, care workers, and volunteers greet each other and shake hands. After a few rounds, his small hand found mine. The song continued. When it was finished, he was a few rows in front of me. I caught his eye and, finally, he smiled at me!
Throughout the rest of the day, he would reach for my hand. He would watch me when he didn't think I would notice. When we feed these children, we are doing something so much deeper. To a vulnerable child who would otherwise be alone all day, it is a chance to receive attention and affection. Children snuggle into our arms where they are seen, known by name, and loved.
*Names have been changed