Friday, November 26, 2010

A Passion for Pajamas

Do you remember your favorite pair of pajamas?

Don’t be embarrassed. It’s a fair question. Most of us had favorite PJ's. Let’s just admit it. I'll tell you about mine. My favorite pajamas were bright yellow. They had footsies and white cuffs and a really long zipper that had to be carefully zipped. And they were awesome. 

 No surprise that my grandmother called me her little banana boy.

Awe. Yeah, those were the days...

The truth is, when you’re a kid (and even if you’re not) there are few things more comforting than pulling out those favorite PJ’s from your drawer before bedtime. It’s your ticket to sweet dreams. A guaranteed good night’s sleep. Just part of being a kid in America. 

But there are millions of kids all over the world who have never had a pair of PJ’s to call their own. Actually, millions live without clothes at all. When it comes down to it, there probably aren’t any lives being lost because of a worldwide pajama shortage. But that's certainly no reason to keep a simple childhood joy to ourselves. And there are some little lives that are much happier this morning, thanks to two RMU students and their passion for PJ’s. 

Here's one of them. Meet MaryKate O’Hear. We call her MK. 

MK has one of those smiles that’s always on the verge of laughter. I have to tell you, throughout our week here in Nicaragua, there’s never been any doubt in anyone’s mind that this girl is having the time of her life. But for all the life-changing moments she’s lived on this trip, the one she says she’ll cherish most happened on this final morning in Nicaragua. 

The whole project started with a simple idea from MaryKate’s roommate and best friend, Amanda Musser. Amanda was watching Oprah one day and saw a feature on the non-profit organization called the Pajama Program. For ten years, this charity has been providing warm pajamas and bedtime storybooks for kids who don’t have them. Upon seeing the impact that these simple gifts had on young children, Amanda was instantly inspired and set out on a mission to collect as many sets of pajamas as she could. Working in tandem with the Bradley Center in Pittsburgh, this RMU business major was able to hand out 100 sets of pajamas and over 200 books to abused and neglected children on Christmas Eve. Her work with these children, along with her devotion to several other charitable causes, made Amanda Musser one of the stars of the RMU ChangeALife campaign. You can watch her inspiring story on our website here

When Amanda found out that her roommate MaryKate would be traveling to Nicaragua, she decided to take the Pajama Program abroad. For three weeks before our group left, Amanda and MK put the pedal to the metal with their collections, hanging signs around campus, placing collection boxes and asking for donations. They teamed up with Spanish classes at Cornell School District to write special messages for the kids in Spanish to be packaged with the pajamas. They made each high school student responsible for writing twenty personalized notes. In the end, the two RMU seniors collected 150 sets of PJs and over 600 children’s books. It took them four days to wrap them up with ribbons and pack them away in suitcases.

And today is the big day to give them all away. 

We are at the pediatric hospital in Managua this Sunday morning. Our last day in the country will be spent relaxing on the beach at Pochomil, but this was a mission we had to complete before we left for the coast. We’ve all tossed on our dirty nursing scrubs overtop our swim trunks to go into Hospital Infantil, the pediatric medical center in Managua. MK is even more excited than usual. 

“It just seemed like such a nonchalant thing when we were packaging them back home,” she tells me excitedly. “But to actually be here, to be passing them out today in the hospital….I can’t believe how excited I am.” 

We are greeted in the lobby by the head nurse. After introducing us to some of her staff, she walks us down a long sunlit hallway that leads to one of the pediatric units. Amanda leads the way, smiling as always.

Once we reach the nurse’s station, we lay the suitcases down and open them up. For the next half hour, the group dispenses the PJs to the little patients along the hallway. The first few moments are awkward, as they always are. American college students entering your room, complete strangers to you and your child, would probably unnerve you too, if you were a Nicaraguan parent. 

But when they see what the students have for their children, and those shy little faces start to widen with smiles, the international barriers don't last very long. After ten days of being immersed in the culture, most of us have rekindled a good portion of our high school Spanish vocabulary. We can speak a few sentences back and forth, but mostly, all of what needs to be said is passed along just fine in the flash of a smile or the clasp of a hand. 

Out in the hallway, Dr. Ross and Edgar open up the suitcases full of books. They are written in English, but that's all right. Most of the kids here love to learn new English words, and regardless of the language, all of them will enjoy the pictures. Dr. Ross teases Edgar at his selection of books for one of the young boys. 

"You really think a little boy wants to read about princesses, Edgar? Come on now! Give him a real book!"

There are plenty more pajamas and books to hand out, but we only have time to pass them out to this particular unit. The rest will be distributed throughout the hospital. We've also left clothes and books at the UPOLI clinic for the Christmas party they are planning for the children. All in all, the Pajama Project for Nicaragua has been a tremendous success. MK and Amanda can be proud of the work that went into that special suitcase.

So this winter, we hope you’ll think about that special feeling the next time you feel it, slipping into your PJs after a long day. It takes you back to childhood for a moment, doesn't it? Fortunately, it’s a feeling that’s very easy to share with those less fortunate, whether they live in Nicaragua or right next door. Just click here if you're interested in learning more about the Pajama Program. 

Maybe you share Amanda and MK’s passion for pajamas. Maybe your help can give a little kid like this one...

 ...a little something special to call their own.