Before I begin, I have something to disclose right at the start of this “Finishing Lines” essay: I didn’t touch a basketball for all of summer 2019. Yes, basketball has been a huge part of my life since before I can even remember. I don’t think I’ve ever gone more than a few consecutive days without being in a gym with a ball in my hands. I love basketball. I always have and I always will. But I was willing to go basketball-free for an entire summer in 2019. Why? Because basketball is just what I play. For three months last summer, I wanted to learn more about who I want to become.
So, I went to Lesotho in Africa.
I went to Lesotho to intern with the social worker at Beautiful Gate, an organization that exists to reach out to orphaned, abandoned and neglected children ages newborn to five years old, and give them the love they need and deserve. In a country afflicted by overwhelming poverty and extreme disease, children can often be given little regard and love. Beautiful Gate says, “We will love these children and give them a home until we find their forever families.”
One of my responsibilities at Beautiful Gate was conducting assessments of the children during my last few days there. Assessment questions were different based on the ages of the kids, but I was assessing their eating habits, physical and emotional development, language, behavior and social interaction. (Quick shout-out to my outstanding Hope social work professors who laid an educational foundation for me to do this already!) It was a long process and a bit draining as I spent the day reading files of difficult situations, but it was also amazing for me to be able to assess them based on the time that I came to know them throughout the summer.
So, you see, I looked right into the eyes of a lot of brokenness in Lesotho, but honestly, there is just as much brokenness in the U.S. Children should not have to go through horrific things only to grow up in an orphanage, or get lost in the foster care system.
One day in particular was extremely tough, though. It was the day we experienced an infant death. I had the opportunity to go to the hospital to see this babe a few hours before she passed, and it was beyond hard. Seeing that sweet little one hooked up to various machines and tubes was heart-wrenching, to put it lightly. Her brain filled with fluid, and eventually they found her to have no brain activity. She passed away a few days later.
So, loss happens quite often at BG. Some loss is beautiful, though, like times in which children are united with their forever families and we have to say goodbye so that they can be with the people whom the Lord intended for them. Some loss is just plain hard. And let me tell you, the death of that baby was just plain hard.
Yet, that hard, hard death helped me learn so much about grief. It’s difficult during those times to give glory where it’s due or to find the good, but it’s also during those times that God reveals himself the most. God works through the hard things. He shows up, responds and teaches if you’re willing to listen and learn. That sweet baby girl will no longer have earthly suffering. She will not experience life as an orphan. She’s with Jesus, she’s healthy and she’s so loved by her heavenly Father. The grief became lighter once I acknowledged this, and for that I am thankful.
Hard times were softened by good times, too. I had the opportunity to witness six adoptions and go on a follow-up for the reunification of a five-month-old baby. The BG social worker took me to a rural village where we climbed a mountain to a one-room home where this baby’s grandmother lived. There, we assessed the family’s living conditions and gathered information about what the family was like, whether or not they had an interest in taking the child and what sorts of resources they could provide.
So, you see, I looked right into the eyes of a lot of brokenness in Lesotho, but honestly, there is just as much brokenness in the U.S. Children should not have to go through horrific things only to grow up in an orphanage, or get lost in the foster care system. What they SHOULD have are people who are fully devoted to advocating for their needs when they’re vulnerable. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case, both here in the U.S. and abroad. Having spent hours upon hours with the children at Beautiful Gate, it breaks my heart knowing that many of them will remain there for many years without entering into a forever family. That’s an intense realization.
But I’m excited to continue studying social work and hopefully be a part of a solution to a lot of brokenness here or in another country, wherever the Lord leads. After this summer, I know with 100% certainty that I’m going to be a social worker and that I want to work with children. It’s hard work and emotionally heavy more often than not, yet it’s all worthwhile and rewarding.
If I can make even a small difference in the lives of children and families, then every difficult thing will forever be worth it.
Photographs contributed by Kenedy Schoonveld ’21