The orphans living in SOS Children’s Village in Irbid, Jordan have one wish this year: to go to the beach.
“We have never been, I want to see the fish,” says Ahmed, an 11-year-old orphan, who wiggles his hands to depict swimming fish.
The other eight children overhear him and agree. “Yes, yes. Beach.”
It would take four hours by bus for the children to reach the public Aqaba beach and the venture would be expensive – 3,500 Jordanian dinar (Dh18,000) for 88 children and carers. So for now, it’s a pipe dream.
Still Ahmed, who has never swum, confidently describes what will happen once they arrive.
“We will build sandcastles and swim like dolphins.”
As the children run around and go to school on their SOS Children Village premises in Irbid, their “mothers” cook large meals and attend to their every need.
Umm Asmahan couldn’t stop crying when asked about the 16 children she has raised since the opening of the Irbid branch 17 years ago, in 1999.
“I can’t let go of them,” says the 48-year-old Jordanian, who was a teacher when she joined the village as a mother. “They are my heart. You learn the real meaning of unconditional love in the villages. I can’t imagine a more fulfilling life.”
Soon one of Umm Asmahan’s sons, Rami, who is 14, will be moving to the SOS’s youth centre, where they take care of the older orphans.
“I want to stay here,” he says. “Mama is always there, and listens to me. I love her so much.”
Luckily the youth house is nearby, so he will be visiting regularly.
“You are my habibi,” she says, giving him a big hug.
Umm Asmahan says that while Allah has not given her the chance to marry and have children, He gave her much more.
“Imagine I have 16 children. Some are now young adults, and they come back to visit me. Not once did I feel they were not mine. Each child has a special gift and talent, you just have to have the patience and the love to see it and nurture it,” she says.
For a role model, the children turn to Baba Zakarya. Zakarya Momani has been director of the SOS Children Village of Irbid since it opened. “I am a father of 153 children; three my own, who always come and play with the children here,” he says.
As is the case for many of the SOS Village’s children, the youngest remain unaware of their situation and truly believe all those brothers and sisters are their blood siblings.
The same group who announced recently they would love to go to the beach have already made a plan B.
“It is OK. We have so much already. But if we can get a pool, we can have a beach party every day in our village,” says Khalid, 12, winking at his friend Ahmed.
Upon hearing a rumour that a cake was being brought over to the village, the two run off, chased by a group of children, in search of their next adventure.