I can still see the lanky white bundle laying in the crib. Six years doesn’t dull that kind of shock. We had just begun to accept children in the orphanage. We still hadn’t formulated our opinion on photographing the children who came to The House of Dreams. Part of me is glad I can’t find any pictures of Shirley’s first day, or even her first weeks.
She came with a name, but not much more. Released too early from the hospital where she had been receiving treatments for extreme malnutrition, her bones showed through her skin and she labored to breathe. This baby, less than a year old, should have been chubby and kicking, but she just laid there, her dark eyes not focusing on anything, her stomach round and protruding. We took her back and forth from the hospital those first weeks, demanding they tend to her and help us.
I was shocked at how quickly she turned from starving to thriving. By the time she turned one she could sit up on her own. The doctors were astonished. Here is a picture from around that time. Look at the joy in that face!
Shirley was one of our first babies. Since inception, 53 children have found refuge in the House of Dreams. Currently we have 15 kids ages 6 to 11. Shirley is still with us. She just turned seven! To her recollection this is the only home she has ever known.
My husband and our five kids live down the road from the House of Dreams, just a five minute drive away. In the morning I started baking the cupcakes in anticipation of Shirley’s birthday party. Then we set to preparing the gifts and party stuff sent to us by a very generous family from the United States. As we were sorting the candies, bags, pencils, erasers, toys, crafts, stickers, and other goodies my kids and I chatted. (Preparing gifts for the House of Dreams is one of my kids’ favorite things to do to help out.) My oldest saw the stack of brand new Shirley sized outfits, that matched a tinier stack of outfits tailor made for the doll in the gift bag. She asked me, “Is Shirley a stylish kid?” My middle daughter was quick to reply, “Oh yeah. That Shirley can be a sassy girl!” With a smirk on her face as she stuffed a page of stickers in a bag the older sister replied, “Like you?” Ha!
We loaded the bounty up into a taxi and headed down the road. I called ahead to tell the Tias to come out and help grab the stuff. This meant, of course, 30 little eyes peeled as they watched my entourage enter with the party. The table was quickly set. I showed around photographs of the family who had sent all the wonderment. We lit the smiley face candles, sang, and she blew them out. Shirley helped hand out the lemony cupcakes to all the Dreamers. After they were all sugared up we moved over to the couch area and she handed out the prize bags. It was great fun to watch the children restrain themselves and wait patiently until all the bags had been dispersed. Then the signal and they tore into the fun! As they were happily pushing cars around, turning their tongues colors with the candies, and sticking stickers all over themselves I scooted Shirley into the office and gave her the gifts just for her. Her eyes lit up as she carefully turned each item over and asked how to use them all. She was so grateful.
She chose one toy to take out with her and changed her clothes into one of her new outfits. The rest of the things were tucked away in the special spot in the office to be pulled out when they would be used. This is how we help to quell jealousy and avoid sticky fingers.
I am so glad that today Shirley could feel special and loved. I am so thankful that the people who financially support the House of Dreams make it possible for us to give such individual attention to the kids.
If you would like to sponsor a child please let me know. You can go to our Kid Pics page and see all the kids who call House of Dreams home. Or maybe you would just like to help make birthdays just a bit brighter. We also have a list of birthdays. Let me know if you want to send gifts down here to Cochabamba, Bolivia and I will tell you how you can do that.
And now, some birthday photos: