Thursday I went with a friend to a local orphanage. I have wanted to find one to start volunteering at once a week. My friend told me about the one she goes to and I asked if I could join her and her girls, for the first time. So Emma went with me.
My friend had described the situation and then told me to be prepared to be “shocked”.
I don’t think I would say I was shocked, but you certainly have a lot of emotions working in that situation. Going in I felt glad that I could actually go in and hold the babies and try to help.
From our time in Ukraine a year and a half ago, I wanted to at least be of some use.
When we were there in Ukraine and the adoption we planned and hoped for fell through, we had a couple weeks of just sitting around waiting for another appointment. All the while knowing that there were hundreds of children in that area that were orphaned, and yet because of the “laws” we could not even go into the rooms at the orphanage and see the children, let alone touch them or hold them.
So we went into the 2 “baby” rooms. The first room had toddlers and the other one has babies.
My friend had mentioned the cribs and once I saw them I too was fearful for the children. They come up to about your waist and the mattress is at the upper 2/3 of the crib. So the toddlers that could stand up in their cribs would stand and the top rail was about at their thigh. Instinctively I lunged a couple times when I saw them, not necessarily because they were falling out, but because if they leaned to much they could fall out.
When we came in all the toddlers were just sitting there in their cribs. I don’t know how many, probably at least 20.
Ironically, and we saw this in Ukraine, they have toys on shelves still in the packages that don’t look like they are ever played with. But at least they can say they have toys and there is something to look at if you look up high enough.
Stephanie had said they let you do pretty much whatever and do not speak English very well. So when we walked in they were finishing changing the diapers and getting ready to feed the babies. A few of them eat baby food and the rest of them were given bottles in their cribs. Propped up or laying next to them.
We spoon fed the older ones, (you share the same bowl and spoon and feed a couple at the same time)
And then we started to pick up a few with their bottles to feed. Stephanie noticed that some of them would not continue eating if you held them. But many of them then were soaking wet and were laying in milk and spit up, running down their neck. One little girl I picked up, probably somewhere 3-5 months old and her whole dress was wet and her hair. So I asked if we could get clothes and you go over to a big cabinet and we grabbed something and then I changed her.
So we were there about an hour and a half and spent the time holding the babies, and changing diapers and feeding them.
Emma held a few and fed one or two for a little bit. Then she took a few of the toddlers out of their cribs, one at a time and held them and tried to play with them.
The difficulty came for me, in seeing these older ones scream and cry when you put them back in their crib , to give another child a few minutes out of the crib with someone to hold them.
One girl just screamed and screamed and another little boy just sat there, more quiet, but he had tears in his eyes and was quietly sobbing. I went back and picked him up for a little longer and then put him down.
Emma was holding one little girl and she tried to put her back in the crib and she physically kept herself from going in. She wrapped her foot on the outside and was very strong in showing that she did not want to go in the crib. So Emma held her a little longer, and then I helped her put her back in the crib.
We wondered if they take the kids out to play any during the day. There is not space in the room or a play area there, so it seemed like that’s where they spend a great part of the day.
I told James I wonder if these that “put up a fight” to go back in the crib might be those that have been more recently abandoned or left in the orphanage for a time. Maybe they remember their “freedom”, more than those that have been there long term or don’t know any different.
In the little baby room, there were maybe about 14 children. I tried to hold several, wiping off their faces and mouths from the bottles. Changing a few diapers, and learning the Zambian way to fold a cloth diaper. One little girl’s diaper was falling off and she started going to the bathroom all over the crib, thankfully I saw it as it was happening and we were able to get it cleaned up and have her be fresh again.
A couple children stood out to me, and that night I was thinking about them as I went to sleep. One little boy looked very frail and sickly. I picked him up to try and feed his bottle and he sucked on it, but did not seem to be swallowing. He was so tiny and thin. His little legs were so small and the skin was very loose on him. When I held him, his tiny backside could have fit in the palm of one of my hands. He looked as if he was older than what his size was saying, but he looked malnourished.
Then at the end I held a little girl who also was very frail. She too was very tiny and felt warm when I picked her up. She had an IV next to her crib, so I thought maybe sometimes she is hooked up to it.
But she had beautiful eyes and she just looked up at me and smiled the whole time. But so tiny.
For part of the time, it seemed like “are we even helping any?”, especially when we were in the toddler room and there was more crying from kids having been held and then put back, then there was when we walked in the room in the beginning. And what a sad thing to just look out and see them, toddlers all in the cribs. Several of them rocking back and forth in their cribs, sitting on their knees.
If you see a room of toddlers, they are supposed to be all running around exploring and getting into everything. A lot of happy chaos. Not sitting in their cribs.
So one could easily be discouraged. You don’t walk away with a happy feeling from that situation. But what I tried to keep in mind is that the Lord can use any small amount of love shown, to these precious little ones. ANY amount of love. Maybe even just to hold a child and pray for that child. Only the Lord knows what that does for the child and those around.