I had one of those moments last night that gladden the heart and ease the feeling of helplessness from swimming against the tide of so much human misery.
I was standing outside our housing allocation unit, waiting to help the next person waiting for a place to sleep, when a handsome young couple with a small child in her father's arms, approached me. He spoke english well, and asked me where they could get a jacket for the child. She was dressed in thin pants and top, and a thin pair of socks. They had her wrapped in a blanket, but she was obviously cold. I told them they could get a child's jacket at the dorms—samaritan's purse does most of the clothing distribution, but I had taken someone else there earlier looking for children's jackets, and they were out—and led them up to the top of the hill. I told the team leader at the gate what we needed and she told me to go ahead and get it for them.
That's not strictly according to the protocol. I should have handed the family over to the volunteers at the dorm clothing distribution room, but it was the dorm level the group i'm with is responsible for, so sometimes you can bend the rules a little. And sometimes, there's something about a certain person or family who just tugs at you, and you need to see them through. So I bent another rule, and took the family inside the distribution room with me. I pulled a jacket out of a box of baby's coats, but it was obviously too small. As I was putting it back to try another, the mother reached for a pink coat that was out of place in the wrong box.
It was thick and fuzzy and soft, with a hood with little rabbit ears. Together with it was a pair of thick matching pants, the cuffs turned up to reveal the same flowered lining as on the coat. The little girl's face lit up as though the sun had just come out. The clothes fit perfectly, and though I didn't see any shoes in her size, we finished up with a thick pair of hand knit socks, cream colored and soft.
On our way out of the distribution room, we passed a table with a few toys on it. The little girl (she was 2 and a half) reached for the toys, wanting each one in turn, as I said no to one after another. I explained that they were kept at the dorms for the children to use during their stay. Palwas—who had been so happy with her new warm clothes—started crying at this fresh disappointment. Not a temper tantrum, just silent tears running down her small face. I gave her an orange hoping to cheer her up, but though she took it willingly, it didn't dry her tears. Her parents and I were sad too. Fortunately, i'm not the only one who bends the rules. The volunteers at the door said it was okay for babies to take a toy. Palwas' father, looking much relieved, picked up a giant stuffed smurf doll, palwas had been taken with. I asked him if he really wanted to carry something that big throughout their long journey still to come (i'm a mom; been there, done that) and we all kind of laughed as he put the smurf down. But we held up two other stuffed toys—of a size palwas could manage herself—and she chose a sort of dragon looking puppet. With palwas smiling again, one lone small tear still on her cheek, and clutching her dragon in one hand, her orange in the other, we left the dorms.
As we started down the hill, palwas started singing softly, but as we walked her voice swelled from barely audible to ringing. All the way down the hill palwas sang her joyous song, her small orange clenching fist conducting. All the way down the hill, palwas' song brought smiles to the faces of passing refugees and volunteers alike.
At the bottom of the hill as we were parting, palwas said (back to her quiet voice) “i love you.”
I love you too, palwas.