Originally published in November 2018
Written by Riezl Baker, Luxury Lake Oconee Real Estate Group

I learned about empathy and compassion at home and at school at a young age. As far back as I can remember, we had class field trips to orphanages where we spent time and cared for children, or fed the hungry on the streets. One facility that we frequented was Elsie Gaches Village. Located about three miles from our school, the facility is home to 600 special needs children and adults, many of whom were abandoned as infants because of abject poverty. Here, they are provided a nurturing environment and are taught to co-exist with other members of the society through educational programs and services. Residents and patients’ cases range from autism to mental retardation, visual and hearing impairment to severe epilepsy and cerebral palsy.

The highlight of my summer this year was a trip to the Philippines with my kids where we had the opportunity to host a lunch event for the orphans. My 12-year old daughter Remi decided to take on this special project. She baked and sold dozens of Philippine macaroons and saved all the proceeds to host the event and donate to the facility. It was a heartwarming experience to see the happy faces of these residents, who looked like normal adults with the minds of 7-10 year olds. Many of them cannot speak, but the spark in their eyes as they waved and smiled to get our attention ,and be acknowledged really tugged our hearts and lifted our spirits. Some grabbed our hands and placed them on their cheeks to show their gratitude and appreciation. We hired “Jollibee”, the country’s most popular fast food chain to provide the lunch and invited the “happiest” bee mascot for entertainment together with Stu and Remi, who rendered a few songs much to the delight of these incredibly special people. St. Francis of Assisi said that “it is in giving that we receive”, and indeed, we received bountiful gifts that day. We thought we were there to provide three hours of happiness, but instead, we received a humbling experience as we witnessed all the hope, gratitude and joy in these children’s hearts that would forever change us.