Honoring Richard

December 2, 2011
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Kpando, Ghana is an impoverished area full of dirt roads and bustling markets. Everything there (clothes, houses, feet, and even goats) is covered in an orange dirt that seems to soil every aspect of life. The people are poor but somehow have a positive outlook. Everyday I met new children, each with their own story. They all affected me, but one touched me the most.

My first day at the orphanage I met a twelve-year-old named Richard. His story amazed me. He was born with water on the brain that has afflicted him with severe mental and physical developmental deficiencies. Most children born in this region in this condition are killed or abandoned to die, but Richard’s story was different. As a baby, Richard’s parents had tried to end his life by giving him large quantities of sleeping pills. A few local women found Richard, who miraculously was still alive, abandoned in a house, took turns caring for him, and from their decision to care for Richard sprang the idea to start an orphanage in Kpando. In just twelve years the orphanage has grown to house fifty children and to give them hope for a better future.

Richard’s story is one of despair turned to hope. At age twelve he learned to walk and to respond with facial expressions. These sudden changes in ability affirm the idea that even when faced with difficult circumstances, moving forward is possible. Even though Richard has suffered all his life, and will continue to do so, his pain inspired an entire community and saved the lives of many children. His legacy will continue to live as a symbol of possibility. Richard teaches us that good can emerge even from the most difficult, even cruel, circumstances.

The miracle that came out of Richard’s suffering filled me with questions. Why would his parents treat him so terribly? Why was he born in an area unable to help him? Will he be able to rise above his discouraging surroundings? I couldn’t--and still can’t-- think of a reason that could possibly atone for the amount of suffering that Richard has endured. Maybe his story could influence others and bring them a sense of hope as well.

After leaving Ghana I felt so small in the face of Richard’s suffering. I realized that the only thing I could do for Richard was to find meaning in his suffering. This gave me hope and direction. I now know that if Richard could live through all of his travails, I can make it through the hardships of life. When I begin to think that my daily struggles are insurmountable, I remember Richard. To atone for his anguish, the only thing to do is spread the feelings of hope that Richard gave me. Though Richard’s suffering is real and enduring, it must not be for naught.

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