Two days a week I go to the orphanage to volunteer with the children there. The name of the orphanage is Solomon Klein and it is run by the Sisters of Charity. It is one of the largest orphanages in the city and has four different homes. One is for boys and girls from birth to 5 years old. When the children are of school age they are separated and the boys go to one home, the girls to another. They can stay there until they are about 8 years old. Then there is home for the boys age 8-12 but there is no place for the girls. I asked why not and they simply told me that it was a good question but they did not have an answer. As in other developing countries, the children in the orphanage are not necessarily without parents. Some are abandoned but others are put into the ‘hogar’ or home because the parents are unable to take care of them. Sometimes the children will be returned to the parents if their situation improves.
I requested to work with the smallest children, those from birth to crawling. I stay for 2 hours a day. First there is the bottle feeding. With 25 children and 2 employees it is not possible that each child gets held and cuddled while they are fed. It took a change of perspective to realize that the only way to feed them is to prop a bottle up, even for those as young as a month. And, of course, with so many babies there are lots of diapers to change and lots of bottoms to clean. The diapers are folded in a way I have not seen and have not been able to learn. I cannot even explain it so all I can say is that they are extremely bulky and I feel for the legs being spread apart so far all the time. No pins are used so the child is simply wrapped in the diaper and the diaper is kept in place by the rubber pants.
Usually there is about a half an hour after bottle feeding that I can cuddle and pay attention to the children. It hit me last time that many of these children were over 6 months but had no idea how to sit. I did question the size of the diaper! However, I started to sit up a few of them for a few minutes and maybe it will help. I also sing to them – thank goodness they don’t care if I sing on tune or if I sing in English! I found a rocking chair in the storage area so at the beginning of my shift I pull it out and rock the kids. At the end, I put it back in storage. That is one of the ‘North American’ things that they do not understand so do not use. They do laugh at me (nicely) when I sit and rock a couple of kids at a time. It takes the kids about 10 minutes to relax enough to lean into me rather than bend away.
At 4 o’clock the supper comes. It is a soup made with pureed veggies. They start feeding them this quite young since the formula is very expensive. We spoon feed the older ones and that is quite the experience. Children at home sit up to eat but these are used to lying prone on your lap and having the food put into their mouths. They seem to lack the swallowing reflex but maybe babies don’t develop that by 6 months. They seem to swallow just when there is so much in their mouths that they have no choice but to swallow.
After supper I have another half hour or so to cuddle so I try to choose different children each time to hold and to rock. Of course, there are always those that seem a bit fussy so they get a bit of extra attention.
Although this may sound rather futile and depressing, I do enjoy it. It is wonderful to see these children smile, to get them to react to a song. Regardless of where children are, they are creatures of God and all have the same qualities. As I get to recognize some of them, and some of them recognize me, it is a real blessing.