“Our hearts of stone become hearts of flesh when we learn where the outcasts weep” – Brennan Manning
Around 8 years ago my co-workers sister in-law, Belen, was studying to get her degree in medicine. She had to spend a year in a small village in the mountains four hours from Quito. During her time there, she found a little family of very special people. There were 5 men, and 2 women. All related (either brothers and sisters or cousins), all miniature and all at various levels of mental retardation. The smallest hitting around 3 feet tall, the tallest, maybe 5 feet tall, all with incredibly small bone structures and features. From what we know, they were all abandoned in that place years and years ago, around the age of 10 (being the oldest) and from than on, they somehow raised themselves in a little broken down hut. We have no idea how they survived through the years, alone and so very vulnerable. After Belen found them she visited them a few months later and found one had died. So when we started seeing them six were left- four boys, and two girls~ Zoilita, Margarita, Celcio, Pedro, Alberto and Anibal. She contacted Sabri and Mela Toledo (my beautiful coworkers) and they went and met the people who we have come to call, The Little People of Ambato. The Toledo’s fell in love with them and began bringing people with them to help take care of them. They had never learned hygiene or how to take care of themselves so our team began bathing them, shaving them, feeding them, clipping their toenails, giving them haircuts, putting in lice shampoo, and cleaning their home.
The government had come in and built them a small house, but never taught them how to use it – the government’s idea of help was just this little house, not real care or concern. So it was filled with filth and grime and the people didn’t know how to use the bathroom, shower or refrigerator. So the Toledo’s kind of adopted them, 5 years ago, going every few months to be with them, and help them. Right now, three are higher functioning, able to do things like make basic food and semi communicate to us. The other three are very very low functioning, unable to speak Spanish (they speak gibberish), or bathe or do anything else to take care of themselves– right now two are unable to even walk. Apparently one, Celcio, who is now extremely unable to take care of himself, use to be the most put together, but after a rare mixture of a bone disease and Parkinson’s, his aging process accelerated rapidly. Now he cannot even move, walk or speak.
We found out both women had bore children as the result of rape. They both have daughters. One lives in Quito and never ever visits. She has abandoned her mother and we have only met her once, where she wouldn’t tell us anything that happened. It wasn’t until semi recently that we even found out she existed. The other daughter, our team met a while back – we hadn’t known she existed either. But apparently she showed up when we started bringing clothes and food to the little people. She would come and take it all. She was also using them to get money from the government. Our team confronted her and basically said in no uncertain terms that if she didn’t stop taking their money, and didn’t come help them clean their house and make sure they were okay once in a while we would get the authorities involved. She has been visiting more frequently, but we still see very little change in their living conditions and health. We believe them to be between 65-85 years old, though no one knows for sure. It is so hard to tell since the conditions they live in are so horrible, and their health is deteriorating daily.
Many times when I go, I wont have seen them for weeks (and sometimes months… once, it was 8 months) and they are in the exact same clothes we left them in. They do not use the bathroom; they simply go in their clothing and soil themselves. The littlest, most mentally handicap one, refuses to wear shoes, so her feet are covered in scars and cuts. They all crawling with lice and live in their own feces, most have horrific pain in their bodies and more diseases than we know what to do with yet, I have never, in my 26 years on the planet met such joy filled people. They laugh uproariously, clap, sing, and mimic every move we make. If you smile at them, or talk to them, they will smile back and try their best to talk back. They give love freely; to me, they embody Jesus. Never looking for what they can gain, always simply giving all the love they have. Pedrito, the one I am closest to, will look at me like I’m the most beautiful creature on the planet, he will stoke my face and hold my hands in his, gently, with his shaky little arthritis hands, stroke my hands. Giving me every ounce of love he can muster.
Currently we are trying to get them ongoing medical help; their condition has worsened dramatically in the two years I have known them. It is a delicate process and painstakingly difficult right now but we are dedicated to bringing justice to their little lives – even in they simply die in peace, we want to bring them that peace. We have looked into assisted living but that is not an option at this time. They carry joy, yet behind closed doors, there is much sorrow and pain – and we refuse to stand by and let abuse continue. We have doctors we are working with, trying to find a solution to this. It seems hopeless at times, trying to work around a system, and country that is not our own but we do what we can. We are trying to get teams to go weekly now, instead of monthly because of their horrible condition. They need us, we know their time to go be with Jesus is coming – and we want to be with them in their last moments on earth. They have been rejected by society, no one takes care of them, no one loves them – they are so alone on this planet. We want them to know they are loved, even if it has to be at the end of their lives, every human must know they are loved.
Every person I know, who we introduce to the little people, leave changed. The love they pour out extravagantly and simply, with wreck you. When you walk down the little road to their home, you are overcome with shock in the living conditions. The flies everywhere, the filth, the smell, the extreme poverty yet… love lives there. Love resides in them. They feel love, they feel compassion, they feel grief… they simply feel. And if you are lucky enough to experience those feelings with them, you are a rich person.
(I wrote most of this blog almost 2 years ago, since then we lost Pedrito. Apparently he died quietly in his sleep. We arrived the next day and had a gorgeous, achingly beautiful memorial service for him. As painful as it was to loose him, we are thankful he is finally out of the world of pain and suffering and finally free from the world of injustice around him.)