She walked into the room, her smile rivaling the vivid Central American sun outside. They said her name was Raquel. She was a shy 14-year old who loved to play soccer and dance to Shakira. And she adored the Down Syndrome School, where she had become more than a student – she had become a voice for kids with special needs in Guatemala City.
We sat together at a table, along with friends from Orphan Outreach and Irena, the founder of the school. Question after question was asked about her life and what classes were her favorite. I was mesmerized by her giggle and her heartfelt joy for life. In this place, there was no disability. Raquel and her friends weren’t told “not possible.” There, tucked away behind the nondescript metal gate in a maze of winding streets, 40 students were given wings. At the Down Syndrome School, they learned how to read and write. And cook. And swim. And golf. And surf.
I thought about what it would be like for a school like this to exist in the United States – a school that would say “yes” and “live boldly” to kids with special needs. A school that wouldn’t charge tuition, but rather find ways to support families so the children could really thrive.
I looked again at Raquel. Her mother had heard about the school from a friend after struggling for years to care for her daughter as a single parent. Traditional schools had failed. Homeschooling proved too difficult for a mom with mouths to feed and no formal education to make getting a job easy. Maybe I should have felt pity that day when I looked at her – that she was born into poverty, that she now stayed with her mom and siblings in a church in a third-world country because there was no place else for them to live.
But instead, I gave thanks that God would have seen fit to give her life there.
Because I don’t believe she would have seen life here.
Raquel was conceived in a brutal rape.
Even the most conservative of souls here in the United States puts an asterisk on anti-abortion legislation. Rape and incest twist morally straight roads. Add an extra chromosome to the pain, and the weight of the decision would have pressed in relentlessly. We would have talked about attachment issues and the risk of the unknown, of the lack of medical history and the struggles to come. And every one of our arguments would have been sound and wise and true. There would be no malice in our tone, no joy in our recommendation, no celebration at the choice made.
And chances are, there would be no shy 14-year old with a giggle who loves to dance to Shakira and can’t wait until she learns to surf.
You can learn more about the Down Syndrome School, and how you can be part of the lives of the students who attend there, by visiting Orphan Outreach’s website.