The name of this precious boy has been changed to protect his privacy, per orphanage administration request, as his family is still involved in his life. I’m choosing to call him “Matthew”, which means “gift from God”.
I’d like to introduce you to Matthew.
I’ve wanted to introduce you to him before, but I never knew quite what to say. Most every picture we have managed to capture of him has been blurry, or scary, or even sometimes a bit disturbing. Our Matthew has been so tormented. Our hearts have been broken time and time again as we have watched Matthew suffer.
Matthew came to the institution in the spring of 2014. He had been living with his family, but his aggressive behavior became unmanageable and his parents simply had no idea how to care for him or how to keep the rest of their family safe. Their family was being torn apart. So they did the only thing they felt they could do- they sent him to the institution.
I have no judgement for these parents, only sadness at their plight. They obviously love their son, and his father still visits him frequently. They just felt there was no way for him to live in their home. If I were in their position I honestly can’t guarantee I wouldn’t have done the exact same thing. With no social support, no medical support, and limited resources, what is a family to do? Matthew was SO aggressive. He hurt himself. He hurt anyone in arms reach. He destroyed every.single.thing he could get his hands on. He growled and bit and punched and screamed and cried. I have never met another child so tormented and in such agony as Matthew. Dealing with him, let alone actually helping him was beyond our scope. Since we first met we have learned to understand Matthew’s behaviors, and we are still learning.
When we bring teams to the orphanage we can only get Matthew out of bed if we have enough team members for one person to be solely devoted to Matthew. Once taking him out of bed it is a toss-up to whether we will be able to interact with him or not. In the early days if he would tolerate us and let us bring him out to the group for bananas and music it was a great success! We would stand behind him, arms wrapped around him for his safety and the safety of the other boys, and sway back and forth to the music. He knew he needed those arms around him and would often grab our arms to make sure we weren’t going to let go. He would sway and growl and yell and bare his teeth. At first it was hard to know if the growls were good or bad…but you could tell by the tenseness of his body if he was handling the stimulation or if he needed to go back to bed. We know that Matthew’s sounds and his movements are his way of processing the different sensory input coming at him. We have since learned which sounds mean that he his happy, what Matthew’s scared sounds like, what it looks and sounds like when he is overstimulated. These were not just noises, but his way of communication, his way of making sense of his environement and the people in it.
These days he knows that our teams are good and safe. One team member will try to get him out of bed and take him for a walk. We know that the nannies don’t have enough time to give Matthew the attention he needs, and he spends almost every single minute of every single day tied to his bed. He’s not safe to be left with the other boys without supervision and he has frequent seizures, which make his own safety a concern as well. It’s not that the nannies don’t care at all, but when you have two nannies caring for 23 boys with severe disabilities and medical needs you just can’t let a child like Matthew on the loose. So he sits. His quality of life is heart wrenching. We know there is not an easy answer. You have to visit Romaniv to understand why children are tied up. It is horrible and wrong and inhumane and unjust. We know that. We hate it. Yet, at this time, with the way things are there, we simply can not change it. Tying a child back up in their bed is something that will haunt us all of our days. Tears run down our faces as we tie the knots. It’s just not right. Come Lord Jesus.
One nanny has a special bond with Matthew. She truly sees him and when she works she will take the time to get him out of bed and walk the halls with him. She is a hard worker and has a big heart. I love her for loving Matthew.
Boys like Matthew are why the new internship program is so vitally important. Matthew needs consistent people in his life who can take the time to know him, to see what makes him click, to connect with him.
Our team sent us this video of Matthew today, working with Mira, his intern, and I just started weeping. This can’t be Matthew. How is it possible? This is a completely different child. Sitting calmly, making eye contact, following directions. This video is a precious glimpse into the future that is possible for Matthew.
Matthew is beautiful. Yes, I think we have all had moments when we’ve been afraid of him and his sharp teeth. 🙂 But those aggressive behaviors are not Matthew. Matthew was created in the image of God; a gift from God. He was created with purpose and destiny. He is known by God and loved so fiercely by Him. So right now we are praying for more. More healing, more peace, more life. No one is beyond the reach of our Father.
Let hope rise.