The Phebe Grey Orphanage is a study in contrasts. The hard-pounded, eroded ground, the damaged roofs, and the broken wall give an immediate impression of poverty and depression, but when the children spill into the yard in their bright yellow and brown uniforms, the place is alive with laughter and energy. The classrooms are grim with rough benches and concrete walls. There is no electricity, and teachers have very limited resources, so there are no posters, no shelves of books, no media centers. But if you step inside those dreary rooms, talented teachers are bringing concepts to life, and children are engaged in learning. Dormitory rooms have only beds, some only mattresses on the floor. All the children’s meager belongings are hanging from rope lines or stacked neatly against the walls. Yet the children themselves are lively and funny and affectionate, full of optimism and hope.
Although the facilities are sparse, the faculty and staff at Phebe Grey are as professional, dedicated, and caring as any I have met. They are also resilient, resourceful, and endlessly creative with their limited means and materials, and their skill in caring for those otherwise lost children is apparent in the children’s enthusiasm for life. The children sing and dance and play and worship God—all with unbridled enthusiasm. They are self-confident, and curious, and this year, they had a 97 percent pass rate on their national exams, much better than most schools with far richer resources. There are 104 of them; each a unique, loving, hopeful, and beautiful child.
Lee has ventured into that context of contrasts, to offer support. We have provided a lab of 30 computers with WiFi, Microsoft Office, and a networked printer; a library of 1000 books; and a science lab that accommodates physics, chemistry, and biology. We have provided scholarships for students who finish high school, and we conducted a workshop for staff on childhood trauma. A fantastic Lee musician joined in their music, and we have provided bedding, curtains, mosquito nets, school supplies, clothing, and medicine. But whatever we have given, we have received much more in return.
As I walked across the barren playground, a little girl shyly put her hand in mine. Children gathered all around, nudging each other to get closer. A few made awkward eye contact, and I felt their gentle affection.
There is no reward greater than the unabashed love of a child.
–Carolyn Dirksen, World Missions Board member and Lee University Professor of English