Meet Naomi Heye: Empowering Girls in Guatemala
WHO IS NAOMI AND WHAT MAKES HER SMILE?
I would describe myself as someone who loves God, loves to be with my girls, loves spending time with family and friends, but also someone who loves to be alone at night, watching a movie in my room eating treats! I am passionate about loving my girls with all that is in me. That means fighting for their rights, educating others about their value, and most of all, showing them how much they are loved by me, and a loving God who created each of them with a perfect purpose. Cuddling with each of my girls is when I am my happiest. Each girl, no matter their size, fits perfectly in my arms.
Describe the path you took THAT LEAD YOU TO OPEN TREASURES OF GOD CHILDREN'S HOME?
I grew up attending a Christian school, and each time I heard a missionary speak, or heard a missionary's story, I knew that that was what I wanted to do with my life. I attended nursing school, and went on to work for 2 years in paediatrics and five and a half years in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) in Canada and the United States. I knew I was working towards being a missionary, but I had no idea what that would look like. Hindsight has shown me God directed my path, and led me to work in areas that provided valuable experience and life-saving knowledge.
I had come to a point in my life where I was just living life. I didn’t hate my job, but I didn’t love it either. I am a firm believer that we need to love what we do, in order to be our best. I took some time to pray about it, and ended up moving to Guatemala.
I didn’t have a plan, I just came down and started taking Spanish classes. On Facebook, I heard of a children’s home for kids with special needs. After volunteering there for 5 months, hearing the stories of abandonment, abuse, and death in children with special needs, I felt God leading me to start a home to take in more children. I spent the next two years volunteering at a different children’s home to learn as much as I could about running a home. Then I was on my own!
It was a very scary time, stepping out into the unknown, doing it on my own. I had a great support team of friends and professionals, but I became acutely aware of my role in this process, and how important it was for the home to move forward. Running the home often feels too big for me; through the last four years of us being a home, I continue to have moments of panic, but I know this is what I am supposed to be doing, and that God is with me every step of the way. The licensing process took over a year. It felt like FOREVER! Some days were agony, but the day I received my first girl, I knew it was all worth it. Here was a tiny, 7 1/2 pound 7-month-old baby that I was told would die at any minute, and she needed everything in me that I had to give. She is now a thriving 4 1/2 year old who, though not without her continuing medical issues, is a firecracker, and one who has taught me to love and be loved.
WHAT DOES a DAY LOOK LIKE IN YOUR SHOES?
Every day is different. I run this ministry, so I am responsible for making sure all therapies are being completed and followed up on. I also ensure we are following all legal requirements from the government, while working to promote the ministry, fundraise, and hand in receipts monthly as required to be under a non-profit in Canada. As well, I take the children to all medical appointments, train and oversee our nanny staff, coordinate 9 girls in three different schools…the list goes on. And I’ll be honest, administration and leadership are NOT natural gifts for me. During the week, I run various errands. I buy lots and lots of diapers. I take girls to and from school. To ballet class and back. To court hearings and back. To Pizza Hut and back. I write e-mails. I meet with the psychologist. And the social worker. And the speech therapist. I discipline girls. And I cuddle sick babies. And I laugh and play and cry with them. Each day is wonderfully different, but my girls needs always take priority. I’ve had to learn to be strong for them. And it’s an ongoing learning – and sometimes failing – process.
Can you share A MIRACLE THAT haS HAPPENED WITH ANY OF THE GIRLS?
We have seen SO many miracles in our girls' lives. Each girl that comes to us is usually malnourished, has experienced a lack of love and affection, is dealing with unresolved medical issues (sometimes full of lice and parasites), and needs a place to be unconditionally loved and cared for. Now I have a house full of 10 girls. Each one knows without a doubt that they have a mother in me who loves them. They are thriving.
One of our more dramatic miracles is Luz. She was abandoned at a hospital. We don’t know her name or birthdate. Her mother sat Luz down beside another woman, asked the woman to care for her while she went to get a snack. Her mother didn’t come back. I would like to note that Luz was a difficult child, dealing with difficult issues. I believe that her mother had no support system, and didn’t feel she was able to adequately continue caring for Luz. So she did what she thought was best, and left her in the safest place she knew, and hoped the best for her little girl.
Luz came to us completely blind and deaf. The hospital had shaved her head, as her case of lice was so extreme. She had seizures. She was wild, running around, and destroying most things she came in contact with. On our first meeting, she climbed up into my lap, and I remember the look of surprise on the faces of Luz's nurses. They told me Luz had rejected all touch of her other caregivers while spending the last two months at the hospital. Once we got home, we saw what the nurses meant. Luz, though blind and deaf, had zero fear of anything around her. She would RUN across the lawn, around the house, climb out of bed, and go looking for something to get into. She didn’t mind if she ran into a wall, or tripped out on the lawn. She was on the move! She also was so unhappy. She would cry for hours and hours at a time. We could not console her. This lasted for months. We even had some unkind words printed about her in chalk on our driveway from neighbors who could hear her crying. If anyone of us tried to hug her, or guide her, she would kick and hit and scream and bite. She hated to be touched. And because of her blindness and deafness, she was often caught off guard when we went to touch her. I remembered a friend of mine talking about her son who has autism, and how he loved deep touch, so I tried it on Luz. I began to lock my arms and legs around her, and hug her tight to my chest.
She was only five years old at the time, so it wasn’t hard for me to hold her still. Very quickly she began to stop fighting so hard and began to crave affection. She knew who each of her caregivers were by their touch, and would respond differently to each of us. Now, at 8 1/2 years old, Luz wants to hug everyone!!! But the most dramatic changes we’ve seen are in her sight and hearing. About a year and a half ago, we noticed she was beginning to see objects on the floor and would pick them up. She was still running into things, but she started to be able to see people once they were quite close to her. After we noticed these changes, we witnessed Luz responding to sounds.
Today, Luz knows her name, laughs when we scold her if she is doing something she shouldn’t, she sees people from about 20 feet away and comes running for a hug! She is learning to feed herself and loves to laugh. Luz is attending a school specifically for children who are blind and deaf and is making progress there as well.
I was told by her neurologist that early in life she had likely experienced a virus that made its way into her brain, causing a disconnect that left her blind and deaf. Her eyes and ears were “functioning,” but they couldn’t send messages to her brain. Now we see Luz connecting more and more with the world around her. My hope is that God will continue to heal her and that she will be able to see and hear well enough to be independent. But even if she doesn’t, I will still love and care for Luz for the rest of my life.
I KNOW YOU GUYS LOVE TO LAUGH! TELL US ABOUT A FUNNY MOMENT THAT HAPPENED RECENTLY IN THE HOUSE.
My kids make me laugh on a daily basis! Sometimes not at the best moments, but they make me laugh. Marcy is four years old, and is finally starting to speak more and more new words. Her newest words are “Good job!” with a thumbs-up. The other day I had to have a serious talk with Lupita (eight years old) in her room about some negative behavior. As I was leaving, I ran into Marcy in the hallway, and she gave me a big thumbs-up and yelled, “Good job, Mama!!” Thankfully Lupita didn’t hear, and I ran away before I could laugh in front of Marcy.
WHAT HAS BEEN ONE OF THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES YOU'VE FACED SO FAR IN YOUR JOURNEY AND HOW HAVE YOU OVERCOME THAT?
I am not a natural leader or administrator, which are two very big areas of responsibility for me, as I head up this ministry. I often feel like there are SO many other people out there who could be doing this job so much better than I am, and I feel doubt about my calling to complete this. A few key things have helped me continue walking out my calling. First, I believe that God has called me to this. It is so hard, and truthfully impossible for me to do alone. God is always with me, and He gives me strength and help to keep going each day. Second, there are my children. I am legally their guardian, but in my heart, I am their mother. They need me. They love me. They are powerless to change their lives, and look to me and my staff to make the best for them. I have to fight beside them – and for them – every day. Because if I don’t, who will? Third, there are those who share their failures with me. That might sound petty, but I have such high expectations of myself, and when I hear that others do the same stupid things I do, I feel so much more normal!
WHERE DO PEOPLE CONNECT WITH YOU OR POSSIBLY DONATE TO TREASURES OF GOD?
Our website is www.treasuresofgod.org. You can find us on Facebook under Treasures of God Children’s Home; I post the most pictures and updates there. If you would like to receive our e-mail updates, you can send me your e-mail address at email@example.com.
If you would like to make an on-going donation, or a special gift to our home (both tax deductible), please visit www.cten.org/naomiheye.