Wasted Tears

Posted Jun 22, 2012 by 15 Comments

One year, six countries, a few marriage proposals (including an offer of 50 camels – every girl’s dream!) and various rashes and parasites later, I’m on my last World Next Door assignment.

Venturing into a Kenyan slum seemed doable. Walking the streets of the “hood” in Oklahoma City raised no real fear. I didn’t think twice about following a Peace Corps volunteer into a remote Senegalese village, or about jumping on a free bus to Mexico City.

But South Africa is different. I’ve never been more hesitant about any assignment.

Relax, beloved friends and family, who may read this and wonder what possible shenanigan could top some of my past experiences. My hesitance comes not from threats to my physical safety, but from matters of the heart and spirit.

For two months, I’m living with orphans.


To be completely transparent, I’m not naturally gifted with children. I do like hugs, and I’m not grossed out by cleaning up boogers, but that’s as far as my qualifications stretch.

AIDS has removed most of a generation of adults living in the area.

That being said, I do—like nearly all human beings—feel the natural desire to protect and care for little ones. It’s hard to imagine anything more heart wrenching than stories of abuse and neglect and abandonment of children.

But stories like these abound here in the province of Kwazulu Natal, where AIDS is systematically wiping out the critical generation of parents and caregivers. South Africa alone is home to nearly two million children who’ve lost one or both parents to AIDS.

That’s two million children falling on the shoulders of neighbors or relatives who are likely already stretched thin financially. Two million children with limited support in their schooling. Two million children fighting for affirmation and love from whatever adults surround them.

So what will it be like to know, spend time with and (undoubtedly) grow to love a handful of these children?

Nearly all local families are affected by HIV and AIDS.

Well a few short days at Makaphutu Children’s Village, and I’ve already received a heavy dose of what the next several weeks will hold.

Day to Day

Every morning, I wake up to the sound of 73 kids from the surrounding community pouring into the classrooms directly underneath my bedroom for Makaphutu’s preschool and daycare program.

If I catch them at recess, I can expect dozens of hugs, kisses and invitations to push them on the swing set.

During the day, I’m in the office where staff and visitors rush in and out, taking care of business. I’ve even tagged along with the team to distribute food to some people in need of assistance in the local community.

In the afternoons, I go to homework club where the 38 children who call this place home can get help with school assignments and reading. After studying, we’re free to play and dance.

And in moments like now, I can sit on the front porch of my pink cottage, watch the sunset over the surrounding hills and try to type while some of my new little friends press keys over my shoulder.

Children from the community enjoying some recreation time!

The Light

The contrast is a little unsettling. One look across the valley, and I see the disturbed earth of a local mass grave where countless AIDS victims rest in unmarked plots.

But here in Makaphutu, some of the disease’s most vulnerable collateral damage play and laugh like regular children.

What’s it like to spend time with and love orphans?

My feelings mirror those of one of Makaphutu’s newest residents:

When I heard I was going to a children’s home, I cried and cried. But now, I see that my tears were wasted.

This place is not a refuge or collection of broken lives and sad stories—this place is a home.

I’m still a little insecure about my jump-roping skills, but any hesitation about falling in love with these guys has slowly peeled away with each little hug. Some of the children here have many hurts from their pasts to overcome, but at Makaphutu, they are in the best of care.

Walk with me this summer as I learn about the AIDS pandemic at hand, and more importantly, about the unbelievable light surfacing in unlikely places.

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Next Steps
    • Start learning more about how Makaphutu strategically fits with Loving Accurately Ministries’ initiative, Loving South Africa. Read more from this site.
    • Take a moment to reflect on what it means to be an orphan. Why does the Bible mention caring for orphans so frequently? How are they vulnerable? How should we respond?
    • Pray for the children at Makaphutu and the staff who love them. Pray for their healing, their protection, and for happy, healthy childhoods.
    Next Steps

About the Author: Laura is a journalism fellow with World Next Door. She graduated from the University of Arizona, Tucson with a degree in Animal Sciences and a minor in Spanish. She is constantly learning, making friends, dancing, and trying to understand her role in alleviating the suffering of others. Laura also attracts a lot of awkward situations.

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  1. Curtis Honeycutt said... 


    June 22nd, 2012 at 8:36 am  

    Oh my. These kids are überpresh, as Barry would say (from the Germanic root word, über-precious). I am already emotionally hooked.

    • Laura Stump said... 


      June 26th, 2012 at 4:29 am  

      Haha–yes, uberpresh adequately fits this situation, Curtis. Mazel tov on your word choice :)

  2. Julie B said... 


    June 22nd, 2012 at 8:56 am  

    Laura, I know just how you feel. Now when I think about Makaphutu I can’t suppress the smile on my face, but that was not the case before I arrived. I was extremely fearful for how my own emotional health would be affected by living among orphans. Never would I have guessed how they would be truly loved, loving, thriving, laughing at Makaphutu. I consider it to be a sacred place.

    And look out for the bees that sneak out of the light fixture in your bathroom!

    • Laura Stump said... 


      June 26th, 2012 at 4:35 am  

      Thanks for your perspective, Julie. We don’t usually think of orphanages in this light, but something truly special is happening here.

      …and thanks for the warning about the bees.

  3. Barry Rodriguez said... 


    June 22nd, 2012 at 9:01 am  

    Love this article, Laura. The kids at Makaphutu are wonderful, aren’t they? I can’t wait to see what you write for the rest of the summer!

  4. Marla Potter said... 


    June 22nd, 2012 at 9:02 am  

    What beautiful children! I can’t wait to read more. :)

  5. Kathleen said... 


    June 25th, 2012 at 11:04 am  

    Loved your story and can’t wait to read more. There is hope!

  6. Lindsay Helmbock said... 


    June 25th, 2012 at 2:41 pm  

    Wow. Those are staggering statistics… I was completely unaware. Thanks for the information and moving piece. Looking forward to reading more!

    • Laura Stump said... 


      June 26th, 2012 at 4:46 am  

      Thanks, Lindsay. There are quite a few statistics around here. It’s nice being in a place where something is being done about it.

  7. Tindi Amadi said... 


    June 26th, 2012 at 7:16 am  

    Greetings from Kenya!

    What an enticing piece. I look forward to hearing more about the light that undoubtedly pierces through such tragedy and heart ache that brings these kids to Makaphutu. I look forward to hearing more about the love that pours out to these kids.

    I Love your writing and I am so eager to read more about your perspective on the AIDS pandemic in SA. Enjoy


    • Laura Stump said... 


      June 28th, 2012 at 2:17 am  

      Thanks, Tindi. There certainly are a lot of stories to write about here–and plenty of love goin’ around!

      I hope your family is well!

  8. Lisa Davis said... 


    June 26th, 2012 at 10:20 pm  

    Thank-you, Laura, for your willingness to be vulnerable to experience the heartache of these children and open your heart to them to learn all about their stories and shed light on not only the pain of their young lives, but also the hope rising up in Makaphutu. Praying for your heart to withstand the explosion of love pouring from these little lives and for their your stories to flow out to all of us waiting to hear more in the coming days. Blessings to you.

    • Laura Stump said... 


      July 4th, 2012 at 3:04 am  

      Thank you for following, Lisa! There are so many beautiful stories here to share.

  9. Mandi Sutter said... 


    July 6th, 2012 at 3:18 pm  

    Thank you for sharing your amazing journey’s with us Laura! We miss you dearly but know that you are doing amazing things with God leading the way. Keep it up! We look forward to reading more of your stories!

    • Laura Stump said... 


      July 10th, 2012 at 4:26 am  

      Thanks Mandi! It’s a joy to be able to share them. I hope to see you soon :)

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