Saturday, 2 April 2011

No One Should Live Like This

The other day we visited an orphanage, which I'll call orphanage B...for bleak. Before I record my thoughts and observations about this trip, I want to be clear about a few things. First, I am not accusing anyone who runs the orphanage of any wrongdoing, and second, I am well aware that the circumstances at this orphanage are actually vastly improved compared to the state of things only a few years ago, and that these children are far better off than those living on the streets. These things may be true, but it's still bleak.

The orphanage is situated in an urban area. This means it is in a compound, with a large gate and a thick wall that separates it from the street. The building housing the orphanage takes up almost all of the space inside the compound, so with the exception of a small walk-way and a little back alley (which appeared to be used for laundry) there was no outside space for the kids at all.

The orphanage had one large downstairs room with some tables and chairs and a few old couches, and two upstairs rooms that each had eight sets of bunk beds, or sixteen beds per room, and a storage shelf stuffed with an assortment of bags and garbage bags that presumably held the children's clothes. The upper bunks lacked adequate railing, and the mattresses on about half the beds were awful looking. In those two small rooms, with sixteen beds each about one hundred and ten children sleep. One hundred and ten children. In thirty-two beds.

These kids range from infants (very few, since the healthy adoptable ones are pulled out and placed in foster care), to many many toddler boys, to children of both sexes who are elementary aged, and even some older teenagers. All of these kids, from the tiniest baby to the young men and women, share two rooms.

They also get the same meal, in the same portions- one cup of porridge. From the biggest boy to the toddler who can barely hold onto the handle of his cup, they all get the same amount. I cannot imagine how hungry those older children must be. Because of this, many of the younger children lose their portions to those who are older and sneakier. All of the children fight to "feed" the babies, because that means they can help themselves to the uneaten portion- even if that means saying the babies are full when they clearly are not. A few of the youngest children were skeletal, probably because they rarely get more than a few mouthfuls of their meals while the rest fills the empty bellies of the older children. It's wrong, but it's hard to blame the older children for this kind of behavior. After all they have probably only survived in this orphanage long enough to be "old" because they put their survival first. They don't know anything else.

When we went we brought a supplement for their lunch- peanut butter sandwiches, bananas, and bottled water. At first I thought bringing bottled water was silly, because these kids drink dirty water for every other meal of the year, but I was wrong. You should have seen how excited the kids were to receive a bottle. You could tell by their reactions that many of them had big plans for that plastic receptacle. They were so thrilled about owning their very own plastic bottle- the same kind of bottle that we recycle and throw away in vast quantities all the time. I saw quite plainly that my trash was indeed another man's treasure.

After lunch I blew bubbles until I was light headed. The kids loved it. Even some of the older ones hung around to watch. Mtoto was not entirely thrilled about this, because the soap dripped on his head more than once, but thankfully he didn't fuss too much. Then the older kids got out some drums and they played music and danced for us. I'm glad that we got to stay for that, because watching them dance and tease each other made the place a little less grim. A little.

I wish that I could post pictures so that you could really see this place. My words can't do it justice. But, we've been asked not to post pictures, and I want to be respectful.

This orphanage is one of the larger orphanages in this city. I don't know who decides, or how they decide which of the abandoned children end up here, and which go to smaller, better orphanages (like Mtoto's). The randomness of it all is heartbreaking: one child to a home where he will be loved and fed, one child to a place where the food will be taken right out from his mouth; one child to a home where he will be taken regularly to a doctor, one child to a place where they will sit with snot pouring out of their nose and diarrhea oozing out of their diaper; one child to a home where they place a mosquito net over his crib, one child to a place where they won't even be treated if they contract malaria. One woman's child given a chance at life, another's consigned to fight to survive against the odds. I am so thankful my child was given the first set of options. I would walk across hot coals to keep Tommy and Mtoto from suffering like this, but all I have offered these kids is a bottle of water and a peanut butter sandwich. They shouldn't live like this. No one should live like this.


Kara said...

What an amazingly written post from your heart. Blessings to you and your family-Thanks for contining to give Orphans a Voice!

Stori said...

My heart aches to think of my two boys being there for months. And it aches even more for those who are still there. Thank you for bringing them joy!

Chelsea Lee said...

what an image. this ignites all the fibers of me. i'm so glad your boys have you. i'm praying for those kids and please try and find out of there's a way i can get involved and help.