A Message from Yaris

The other day I received a video (the video at the bottom of this post) that made my heart smile. It was a message from a special needs girl named Yaris (the girl in the picture to the right) in our program that just wanted to say hi. As soon as I watched it my day got better. In fact, I would say my year got better.

Many of you that have come down with us to Nicaragua have met Yaris and almost everyone that has met her walked away with a big smile on their face. She truly is an inspiring young lady. She has overcome so much.

You see, as I mentioned above, Yaris is a special needs child. She was born with both physical and mental disabilities. She cannot fully hear or speak, she has limited cognitive capabilities, and she has restricted use of her hands, arms and legs.

In Nicaragua this can be a death sentence, particularly in poorer families with more than one child. Even more often, the family cannot afford the supplies and foods their special needs child requires to be healthy.

In addition to challenges inside the home, life outside the home is equally as hard. Although there are certainly improvements that could be made and ignorance remaining in the US as to how to educate and include special needs children in our schools and society, our county is decades ahead of Nicaragua. They do not have the support system, educational opportunities, or anywhere close to the cultural acceptance and awareness of the US. In fact, other kids often mercilessly pick on children with disabilities, and some adults do as well – including many of the teachers in the school system.

So was the story for the first 10 years of Yaris’ life.

But not anymore.

Meeting Yaris

What I remember most about meeting Yaris was her eyes. I remember looking into her eyes and seeing hurt, shame, insecurity, and a fear that I was going to be like all the rest and make fun of her. She looked at me for only a moment when her mother introduced her and then looked down, avoiding eye contact.

Her soul was heavy.

Her mother told me of their plight. Her husband claimed it was too hard caring for Yaris and abandoned her and her two children. He just walked out leaving her on her own to care for both girls (the two in the picture to the right).

Yaris needed a special milk to help with her development and her school for special needs children required a monthly fee. Her mother worked and worked but couldn’t make enough money to cover their monthly expenses. Each month, to try to make up the difference, she sold pieces of their belongings – all her furniture, their extra things, much of their clothing, and more. Little by little they lost everything and eventually moved into the crowded home of her parents with nothing but a few pieces of clothing and a bed they all three shared.

Yaris had only been receiving 1/3 of the milk she needed for many years, and as a result, she had begun to regress mentally and physically. Now, they had nothing left to sell and if things didn’t change they would either have to stop buying the milk all together or remove her from the special needs school. If they stopped the milk her condition would undoubtedly worsen and her time in the school would lose effectiveness. If they continued buying milk but removed her from her school she would be placed into the general school which lacked curriculum to help her and where she would suffer at the hands and words of cruel children and teachers.

Yaris’ mother didn’t know what to do and feared what either option would do to Yaris. She feared the impact it would have on her development, her heart, and her life. As she told me about their situation she wept. Her hands trembled. She looked down, feeling ashamed that she couldn’t give her daughter what she needed to be healthy and happy.

The Weight of it All

Can you imagine what that would feel like? To watch your daughter, for whom you have literally given up EVERYTHING, suffer and miss out on life, all the while knowing that if you just had a little more money each month it could all be changed? To work and work but never be able to make enough?

Can you imagine how you would feel each night as you and your daughters curled up in your one bed, hungry, in old, torn clothes, knowing that it was only going to get worse?

I am not sure I can even imagine that pain – one of the most gut-wrenching, heart-breaking feelings in the world. One I hope none of you nor I ever have to experience.

I watched Yaris as her mother spoke & wept. I watched as she struggled to walk, struggled to grab things with her hands, and looked at those that tried to talk to her with a blank look that lacked understanding.

My heart hurt for her.

Becoming a Milk Man

We left, I checked their story with others in the community, and then a few days later we returned with good news and a full sack. We told them we would buy the milk each month and handed them the sack that had two weeks of milk powder within it.

At this point Yaris had gone without the special milk for multiple weeks. As they pulled it out of the sack I watched her face. I will never forget her expression or the excitement in her eyes when she saw it. I will never forget the tears in her mother’s face. I will never forget that first step in helping Yaris know and believe that she is beautiful, smart, capable, and loved.

Over the past three years I have watched Yaris blossom. I have watched as the milk first enabled her to stop regressing, then start advancing. I watched as the whole family gained weight now that they could finally afford food. I watched as Yaris and her sister finally believed that we were not going anywhere, that we loved them and were going to be part of their lives. And I watched that as their trust improved, so did their joy.

Over time, Yaris has grown and developed more than I ever expected. What started with her beginning to understand more and her physically capabilities improving has transitioned into her using both to start learning sign language, and then to begin TEACHING it to her family.

That’s right. I have seen Yaris TEACH. I watched a little girl who no one believed in, who was classified as incapable and not worth people’s time, began teaching others including me. And not just sign language.

What I’ve Learned from Yaris

Over time Yaris has taught me and retaught me the value of each and every life. She has been a constant reminder that all of us are priceless in the eyes of our creator regardless of age, sex, nationality, race, mental/physical capabilities, or any other demographic. She reminds me that in His eyes every one of us has value even when no one else sees it.

Even when we don’t see it within ourselves.

Yaris has also taught me the power of standing up for someone, of investing in them, and letting that person know you believe in them. This is true across all the children AND adults that we work with both in Nicaragua and in the US. All of us are the same. We all yearn to belong, to be accepted, to be loved.

That is why the gospel is so beautiful. It tells us with absolute clarity that we have value regardless of who we are, what we are capable of, or what we have done in the past (Romans 5:6-8). It tells us we sons and daughters of a father who is the King of everything (Galatians 4:1-7, John 1:12, Galatians 3:25-26, Acts 16:31, and more), and it tells us that NOTHING can take that love or belonging away from us (Romans 8:35-39). It also tells us to love others in the same way that we have been loved (Mark 12:30-31 and many more). To invest in them the way the Father has invested in us.

Perhaps this is why this video moves me so much. It is a tangible reminder of an unseen truth and process: our continuous redemption as sons and daughters of the most high.

I encourage you to watch this video and look for that. Watch her face, watch her arms, her hands, and her eyes. See the joy that is real. See the confidence in her actions and movements. Please don’t just see a cute little girl that is signing and waving.

See the progress she has made.

See the hope she now has.

See the gospel in tangible form.

And see redemption.

Thank you to everyone that has loved Yaris, prayed for her, and supported her. You have enabled and changed more than you will ever know.

Leave a Reply