One day recently I was talking to a coworker who is a UCSB student and Isla Vista resident, and she mentioned that she was going down to Ensenada during her spring break. Without a second thought, I started to tease her about whether she was going there with a group of friends to drink and party. No, she said, she was going there to spend time with a group of disabled orphans and other children who live in a group home.
Again and again I am reminded that not all UCSB students spend their days with the next party on their minds. There are lots of students who seek to make the world a better place. They travel to Haiti, or feed the homeless, or hold babies whose parents have abandoned them.
While there are many worthwhile ways to devote your time and energy, my coworker, Brianna Tabler, described her experience at Gabriel House in Mexico as particularly wonderful.
Tabler said she traveled to a little town named Maneadero, near Ensenada, with a group of people from Reality Church in Carpinteria. She said it was an eclectic group of college students, grandmas, and other people in their forties or fifties. “Whoever wanted to go,” she added. They got settled in one of three vans and made their way to a rented beach house in Ensenada where they stayed while visiting the orphans at Gabriel House.
The mission of the group was simple. “Mostly we try to engage the children,” she said. “Give them one-on-one attention, and love.” The group brought games, and birdseed to use in a sensory stimulation activity. “They loved it,” she said.
Since she had visited the orphanage before, she knew the ropes and was able to take on the more difficult children. She said that Gabriel House is home to children with cerebral palsy, and mental and physical disabilities. Most of the children are confined to wheelchairs. Many have special needs making it difficult for them to move or communicate.
There are babies at Gabriel House as well. There are two rooms lined with cribs. Many of the babies can’t move, and some have difficulty seeing. The job of Tabler and others was just to hold them. While the image of those babies needing to be held was something I found difficult to deal with, Tabler described her experience as uplifting. “Holding the babies is the best thing ever,” she said.
Then there are Tabler’s favorites: Jose Ramon, whose mom works in the orphanage to be near him. “He’s so sweet and cute!” she said. He has a habit of twisting clothing in his hands. If Tabler would get too close, he would start to tug on her clothing.
And 10-year-old Teddy, who is unable to walk, and whom Tabler described as “super smart.” She said he learned English on his own just through talking to visitors, and is the first person in his family to know how to read. He also enjoys throwing a ball with a willing partner.
And then there are the brothers who have come up with their own form of sign language. They have difficulty speaking because they have cerebral palsy, but obviously have worked out ways to deal with their challenges. “They are so happy and always smiling,” Tabler said. She didn’t always understand what they were saying; she noted with a laugh that they were stumped when she didn’t get it. They thought they were being clear.
While there are many wonderful ways to do good in our community, Tabler’s account really got to me. When you look at the photos of the children on the Gabriel House Web site, Marcos, Jose Ramon, Teddy, and more, you start to think about what you might be able to do to help. Maybe with the help of specialists, like speech and language therapists, the two brothers with cerebral palsy could learn to communicate more effectively. But this all takes money, and that is something that people are trying to hold onto right now.