If we are to have real peace, we must begin with the children – Mahatma Gandhi
Children in need. Whether it’s next door, around the block, or around the world it’s difficult to see them suffering. This new light in the gallery saw a need many years ago and was compelled to respond.
Meet Judy Broom, a former kindergarten teacher and founder/president of the now defunct non-profit organization known as HUG (Humanity United in Giving) Internationally, Inc. Her main focus of giving was the children in the country of Romania. As some may remember, there were numerous news reports in the late 80’s and early 90’s showing the difficult conditions of children living in orphanages there.
I asked her recently about how the organization got its start. She told me a story that I had never heard in the 16 years that I’ve known her. “Why Romania?” I asked. “Because I had heard about it three times in three days and I knew that I could go hug babies like I did in India.” India? I vaguely remembered hearing about this, but asked for clarification.
After completing a workshop that she had been involved in for a few months, she set a goal. That goal was to travel to India to visit the child she had been sponsoring for 12 years. In her naiveté, she decided to make the trip alone, a decision she admits was a poor one. The journey meant many hours of no sleep and one complication after another before finally arriving at her destination. As she spoke, she made light of the conditions, and knowing her as I do, I have to admit it made me laugh.
But I really wanted to get to the heart of it. I wanted to know what it was like to meet her sponsored child (a girl) and the others. The orphanage was waiting for her arrival, complete with a big sign of welcome and the children were lined up very politely. When Judy motioned for them to come hug her, the children didn’t move, save one or two, and they were punished immediately. Judy was perplexed. When she asked the director why the children were punished, he told her that hugging was forbidden. “It is simply not done in our culture” he said.
Inquiring further as the days went on, she says she found out that no hugs were exchanged between the staff and the children … ever. Feeling as if this was one of the most reflexive responses she had to offer to these sweet children, she told the director that she really wanted to change that and asked for his cooperation. “You can call me the hug lady” she said as she went on to talk in-depth to him about how the simple act of hugging and human contact could benefit the emotional and physical well-being of the children.
The director and his staff agreed to give the children three hugs per day – once in the morning, once during the day and then again before bed each night. She says by the end of her trip that even his wife was hugging the children. He saw a noticeable difference in the children in a short amount of time.
Fast forward two and a half years later. Having seen the news reports about Romanian children and feeling like it was a sign for her (three times in three days); she got on a plane and went directly to offer hugs once again. While there she found that she could also offer help through donating clothing, medicine, toys, and much more. And for the next 20 years that’s just what she did. Relying on her strong faith in God and a take-no-prisoners attitude she started taking service teams of volunteers with her, totaling 500+ over the years.
She worked in seven orphanages, changing the lives of countless children, American volunteers, American and Romanian employees, and Romanian grandmothers (through programs she set up to have grandmothers spend time with the children living in orphanages and in foster homes). Her work was recognized by the local government organizations in the cities where she worked and even helped shape the way they were subsequently operated.
I can’t speak for the other volunteers involved with this work, but the difference it made in my life was nothing short of amazing. It was heartbreaking for Judy to have to close the organization down. Due to country-wide changes in the care of children living in orphanages into a broad foster system and health issues in her own life, HUG came to an end.
After all was said and done, she’s proud of the work she did and misses it every day. She isn’t sure where life will take her now, but she still has endless hugs for those who need them.
Do you know someone who’s shining their light? Contact us and tell us their story! We love to network with people doing things that bring them joy and serve others in the process. We seek out opportunities to shine light on the good works of individuals and organizations! We would also love to hear your story and/or have you participate in our gallery. There’s no one quite like you and we’d like to acknowledge that! THANK YOU FOR SHINING YOUR LIGHT!