The three structures -- two dormitories and an elementary school that also serves as a church on Sundays -- are a far cry from the children's former living situation in Balama, Liberia. The youths were residing in two mud houses that were open to the elements and sleeping at least three to a single bed fashioned out of wooden pallets and foam.
"When I first arrived there on that site I was speechless and I realized how fortunate I was where I grew up and Andrew [Jarrett] did as well. ... They were crammed into those buildings three to five per bed, and those buildings that were there were not adequate enough for those children at all," said Joseph Moore, a Cartersville resident who helped Jarrett, his childhood friend and the construction site's project manager, prepare the foundation for the three buildings. "Twice while we were there, windstorms came through and just snatched the roof right off the top and caved the walls in during the middle of the night while they were sleeping.
"Fortunately none of the kids got hurt during those events. But it was just terrible conditions for them, though they didn't know any better because they don't know really what's out there, I don't think. They don't know what it is that we have. But I knew, I knew."
Moore and Jarrett, who both graduated from Cartersville High School in 2002, were the first individuals affiliated with Orphan Aid, Liberia to arrive at the construction site in February. After obtaining a bulldozer that was a front-end loader, they quickly realized most of the initial work would have to be done by hand. Assisted by older boys from the orphanage and men from the Balama village, the Orphan Aid, Liberia team started leveling three plots of land that were originally on a slope with picks and shovels in preparation for the concrete foundations.
"I thought it was really amazing how these 8-year-old kids -- I know one of them for sure was an 8-year-old [and] I thought it was amazing how he was out there with a pick ... and a shovel and a wheelbarrow digging this dirt and leveling," said Moore, who worked at the orphanage site for six weeks. "Then in my mind, I was thinking to myself, 'When I was 8 years old I didn't have to go build my own house.'
"He didn't have parents. None of those kids had parents who were there to guide them along. But they knew what they were doing. I think they could see what we were trying to do. They were building themselves a home and I think that's really amazing for a child to do that -- to go out and build themselves a home. I guess I'm still at a loss of words."
Spearheaded by Daryl Roberts, Orphan Aid, Liberia was established in September 2008 through the Cartersville-based nonprofit Medical Missions Unlimited Inc. The Cartersville resident was inspired to improve the lives of these orphaned children after initially meeting them on a 10-day mission trip to Balama two years ago. Many of the 19-month- to 19-year-olds were still struggling to regain a sense of normalcy after witnessing the death of their parents during the country's civil wars that ended in 2003.
"When we first saw the children two years ago, their living environment was not safe, not secure," Roberts said. "Their diet was inadequate. They were hungry. They were sick. Parasites and malaria was fairly prevalent. I just knew that I couldn't come home and know that those kids were there living like that. It was certainly a calling.
"So the function of the new facilities, in an effort to combat the malaria and the parasites that enter their feet, we wanted to give them enclosed dormitories with floors. All of the windows have screens. They can be opened for ventilation purposes but they are screened to keep out the little critters. The hunger, the disease, intense trauma, fear from being left alone, parents being murdered, intense poverty -- it's been a rough road for these kids but they do have hopes and they do have dreams. We're going to do everything we can to help them fulfill those."
After two years of the nonprofit preparing and raising funds, the children are moving into their new living quarters today. Built on 10 acres of land purchased by Orphan Aid, Liberia, the three pre-fabricated steel buildings are 6,750 square feet combined, which is at least four times as large as the orphans' previous mud structures.
Along with each child receiving their own bed, the complex in rural Balama is equipped with other features that are new to the orphans as well as their fellow villagers, including concrete flooring, a kitchen and electricity. In addition to the buildings, the electrical system was designed by Jarrett's father, James. While the electricity currently is being supplied with batteries charged by generators, within a year it will be operated by ground-mounted solar panels.
"It was not one or two or three people that made this project's positive outcome possible but instead was a host of people from Oregon to Canada and Florida to Liberia along with many here in north Georgia who worked incredibly well together and were brought together in an almost miraculous way by the spirit of God to accomplish this act of love for the children in Liberia," said James Jarrett, a Cartersville resident and director of contract manufacturing for Shaw Industries Group Inc. "In my 58 years of life I have never seen a more clear expression of God at work in and through the lives of his or her people than in this project. I think I can speak for Daryl and myself when I say praise be to God for what has been done both for and by those who have been involved."
Along with the Jarretts and Moore, other local residents who have participated on recent Orphan Aid, Liberia mission trips are Derek Roberts, Daryl Roberts, Darin Hardin and Brian Crisp.
As displayed by those who volunteered their time to build and design the orphanage, Daryl Roberts' dedication to the Liberian children is contagious. His passion also has led his colleagues at Roberts Realty Group to support this cause. Co-owned by Roberts and his older brother, David, the Cartersville business at 26 S. Wall St. serves as a collection site for donated items. The next shipment, which will be mailed in three months, will include shoes, clothing and school supplies.
In addition to donating tangible items, supporters also can sponsor an orphaned child for $25 per month. Financial contributions also are needed to cover the cost of the building's installation and their monthly operation.
"At the very heart of what Orphan Aid, Liberia does is show our children that Jesus loves them and they are not forgotten by providing food, clothes, medical care, education and now a safe home and new school," said Daryl Roberts, adding 74 children were recently baptized during his nonprofit's latest trip to Liberia. "Our new facilities provide us with a great space for Bible study and worship and the opportunity to have one of the best elementary schools in Liberia.
"Our children love the people of Bartow County as they have loved them and provided for them. As one of our older kids said, 'We have suffered for many years but we will not look back. We thank you for all that you have done for us. May God give you long life. We love you.' They do think of their sponsor families and supporters here as their families. I can still hear the children saying, 'I love you' and 'thank you' and you know by the look in their eyes that they are truly and immensely grateful for any and everything that God has provided for them through his people."
For more information about Orphan Aid, Liberia, call Roberts at 770-547-6171 or visit www.medicalmissionsunlimited.com.