a christmas wish

We didn’t ask for anything this Christmas.  No presents for ourselves.  No quilting supplies. No camera equipment.  No extravagant meals at fancy restaurants.  Instead we wished for something else – something for others.

Our Christmas plans took us to Bamenda where our good friend Catherine had organized a Christmas we will never forget.  This year we would be spending Christmas day with a gaggle of children – the Good Shepherd Home in Abangoh, Bamenda.

The orphanage is home to about 85 children aged 3months to 18years, plus another 38 children at the sister orphanage in nearby Batibo.  Many of them have lost their parents to AIDS or are disabled –suffering from epilepsy which is highly stigmatized here and often sees children abandoned.

Catherine raised funds to give the children a truly special Christmas Day.  The generosity of her friends and family was amazing. The joviality started Christmas Eve when Father Christmas paid a visit to the orphanage to hand out custom tailored clothing made for each child. We joined Catherine, other VSO volunteers, and some of Catherine’s friends to help, bounce a few babies, and set the scene for the big day.  As you’d expect, the kids’ shy glances and puzzled expressions only temporarily obscured excited grins.

Pepetua receiving her new outfit

everyone got one

Christmas Day came – we got a customary Xmas morning lazy start and waited for Santa to don his highly insulating red velvet suit – definitely not designed for the Cameroonian climate but obligatory wear nonetheless!

Catherine the Great and Father Christmas (aka Victor)

We proceeded to the orphanage in an unorthodox procession – led not by Rudolf, Dasher, Donner or Blixen, but by a yellow taxi cab Toyota Starlet bearing jolly old St. Nick himself and followed by 4 other miscellaneous contraptions bearing 23 assorted elves (i.e. other volunteers, friends and friends of friends) and surprises a-many. We made an interesting convoy clattering up the rugged road leading to where the orphanage lay perched overlooking Bamenda.

santa and his 23 assorted elves

And as happens all around the world – the kids were waiting for Santa (and us) dressed in their new outfits!  Caroline was joyfully mobbed by the children as she tried to do traffic control so as to get the cars safely into the yard. As the other visitors poured in, they too were hugged and thanked by the children.

The Sisters caring for the kids were doubly overjoyed when they saw a pickup-truck full of food unload – enough to feed the children for 4 or 5 months.  The Sisters burst into song, leading the kids in a soaring and heart-felt “We wish you a Merry Christmas!”

300kg rice, 100kg sugar, 50kg milk powder, 75kg soy beans, 75kg garri, 75kg groundnuts, 100L cooking oil

Next it was the kids’ turn.

While the kids were receiving treats from Santa, his little helpers were working their magic inside the main playroom. When the kids entered their eyes bulged – toys and books for each little one thanks to the American School in Yaounde.

Imagine 100+ children opening their Christmas presents at the same time.  What would you picture?  Sheer Madness? Chaos?  Pandemonium? Not with this group.

Instead the kids showed off one of their home’s core values – sharing!  They made sure their brothers and sisters didn’t have more than one gift and the older kids settled down to show how toys worked and to read to the little ones.  Of course we joined the fun too.

a relaxed Sister Jane watches her happy charges

too many options!

One of the older boys was especially ecstatic – he found a biology study guide in the pile of donated books.  He reverently showed it to the Sisters and visitors explaining how he dreamed of becoming a doctor and how this book will be so useful to him.

Santa got many hugs.  We got many hugs.  The Sisters got many hugs.

Then we each grabbed a little tyke and made our way outside for more singing – Caroline and I fought over a gorgeous little lady named Biana.  She and her twin brother were born prematurely and their mother died giving birth. , Their grandmother brought them to the orphanage at the tender age of 8-hours.  Now 9-months old, Biana is the darling of the orphanage and is often referred to as “little princess” by her numerous new brothers and sisters!

Caroline and little princess Biana

Next everyone feasted on the orphanage’s own chickens!  These are raised as an income-generating activity and were purchased with the funds Catherine raised.

Man, those kids really know how to chow down!

Full bellies all around, some of the littlest ones went off for nap – Father Christmas almost joined them – and the rest launched into a series of gala presentations.


What followed, of course, included children singing carols, traditional dances and comedy sketches.  But have you ever heard kids reciting – and meaning! – the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child?

One little boy really caught our ear as he passionately declared that despite being an orphan – “I am not a mistake!!!” Here! Here!  We heard you young man.  We stand by you.

an inspiration, not a mistake

We danced.  We dandled more babies. We got smothered by kids. We posed for group photos.

Greg and his little buddy

Then we all squeezed back into the contraptions that had carried us up the hill to the orphanage.

We waved.  We waved.  We waved some more.  For everyone it was a really special Christmas.

As we Ho Ho Ho’d our away, we wished we didn’t have to go.  Most importantly we wished that the kids would have more days like this one.

let's dance!

~ by Greg Spira on January 3, 2011.

2 Responses to “a christmas wish”

  1. What a touching story and the amazing thing is, it’s true. Well done Catherine and to everyone else who made this event possible !

  2. Greg and Caroline you are incredible! And those kids, remarkable. Thanks for sharing this amazing story of Christmas.

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