This story was originally written in 2016
It's been over a week since Daniel made his way to Wilmington, NC to meet my students, me and his new buddy, Jack! The entire experience was one I am still trying to digest. I think it was a couple of days after this whirlwind, 28 hour visit that I finally took a deep breath, reflected on everything and let the moment hit me.
Daniel arrived on Sunday evening the plan was for Jack and his family, me and my family and a group of women who have been praying for Daniel to meet him, Yvonne (his caregiver from New Life Home in Kenya) and Jane Stephens (owner of Amani Children's Foundation in Winston-Salem, NC) at the Wrightsville Beach Park. It was quite the gathering and lots of fun! I had no idea when I suggested this park just how great it would be! There were so many things for all of the kids to play on and even a Bubble Soccer game going on. If you don't know what that is, just imagine a giant, blown up ball that kids can climb inside, hold onto the handles and smash into each other!
As we were waiting for Daniel's arrival, the energy was super high! Finally, when Jane pulled the car into a parking spot, we all gathered around waiting for him to get out. I kept hearing from the kids, "I am so nervous", "this is awesome" and even "I've never experienced something like this before". I felt like my heart was going to explode! After a quick diaper change, Daniel made his way over to us!! He was a bit wobbly which I learned is part of the 'learning to hear' stage he is in right now. I never knew that our hearing, or lack of hearing, correlated so much with our balance.
When Daniel walked over to the group, he fit right in! Jack brought a soccer ball and Daniel started to throw it into the air with the various people standing around. By that time, I had tears streaming down my face and was just hanging back, watching in awe.
Throughout the rest of the evening at the park, the kids played with Daniel; going down the slides, using the giant steering wheel (he loves anything that spins!) and just plain running around!
It's Birthday celebrations all around! After the park, Daniel, Yvonne, Jane, me and Jack and his family went back to Jack's house. Earlier, we had set up to surprise Daniel and Yvonne with a birthday party! Daniel's birthday is August 29 and Yvonne's is September 20 - same as Jack's! When they walked in, we had a cake with candles, balloons and presents! Yvonne loved her gifts and Daniel's favorites seemed to be the books and an airplane that Jack and his brothers picked out.
We ate the cake and had ice cream in between playing with all of the presents. It was the best birthday party I have ever been to! I also got a chance to talk with Yvonne about her experiences as a teacher in Kenya and what it is like for her to be here in the United States. I have to say that the pure love and respect both Yvonne and Jane have for children is so inspiring to be around. Every little piece of material or craft or gift that was given to Daniel, whether it be a note from one of my students or a present from me or a folded up paper crown, Yvonne took it with care and placed it gently in a box for Daniel where she collected everything that came for him from the people who met him. She told me that everything will go with him back to Kenya, and stay with him as part of his story. I can't tell you how unbelievable and truly refreshing it was to see that kind of care go into a child's memories which he will have forever. By the end of the night, I tried to help Yvonne get Daniel ready for bed. I got to hold him and rock him in my arms right before he was washed up and put in the pack and play for bedtime. I stayed up chatting with everyone until about 11pm. I was exhausted and looking forward to the next day with my students. I was so ready for bed, but I when I got home, I sifted through the hundreds of pictures from just that evening, finally laying down for bed at midnight.
Daniel's Day at Friends School of Wilmington. When I got to school the next day, I knew I had to teach Social Studies and Math before everyone else would meet Daniel and totally regretted not getting a sub for two hours (just kidding, I wouldn't have done that anyway!). Mid-morning the 5th and 6th graders got together and planned for Daniel's arrival. There were four stations of fun!! Face painting and blocks, play dough, beading and an obstacle course - all planned and set up by the students! I was so proud of them! At one point a couple of news crews came to cover the story!! I saw Jack getting interviewed and the rest of the kids running around decorating, setting up and just extreme excitement and happiness beaming from all over that I wish I had taken a moment to soak it all in. Instead, I was teaching! I love it though!
Finally, Daniel arrived to the classroom. The kids LOVED HIM!!!! One of the songs Daniel knows is the Itsy Bitsy Spider and when he came through the door, the kids all started to quietly sing the song to him and do the hand motions. He played along and clapped at the end! It was seriously magical. I think my favorite part about this entire experience. Seeing my students play with him and hug him was also a moment I will never forget. Their compassion and love showed through in a way that was so pure and real that I just know these will be the people who will continue to make a difference in our world.
By the end of the day, I was beat!! We took Daniel to the beach and the poor guy was afraid of the big, blue ocean, but joined a family in a game I called: Build a sandcastle and let Daniel knock it down. It was so cute! He kept eyeing the ocean every now and again which made me think eventually he would want to get in, but that never happened. We tried and failed. It's ok though! He really liked the sand and his new friends he made!
When we came back to Jack's house, we watched the news casts about the whole day. That was fun! Daniel kept looking up at the screen making the cute noises he always makes! I really enjoyed listening to him listen to himself! I started to miss that when I was looking through the pictures and reflecting on the entire experience.
Where is Daniel Now? Now, Daniel is back in Indianapolis continuing his therapy until him and Yvonne take off back to Kenya. He will go back to New Life Home (along with Yvonne who will stay with him) and hopefully be adopted by a loving, Kenya family. The journey is not over yet. There are so many things that are in store for Daniel and I look forward to seeing what exactly they are. He is a special boy who has touched the hearts of so many people. His life has been changed forever and not just because he can hear, but he will grow up knowing that there were people thousands of miles away who made sure he got what he deserved. We all did something because we are part of what is good in the world and that is a beautiful thing.
Update: That year in December, Daniel was adopted and brought into his forever home. Our hopes and dreams for him came true! There couldn't have been a better ending to this story. The lesson being that you can't change the world, but it is possible to change someone's world. We love you Daniel and so happy for you!
6th grade Humanities Teacher, Blogger, Resource Creator, Curriculum Developer