Today I joined my friend C. on her twice weekly visits to a local orphanage called the House of Moses. The House of Moses is a baby rescue for abandoned infants up to age 2. Honestly, I’m a little squeamish about orphanages and such so while I wanted to see what it was like, I told C. that I only wanted to stay 30 minutes or so. She was very understanding and said she didn’t like it at all the first time she went.
On the way there I began to think I had some food poisoning or something because I felt really nauseous. C. asked if I wanted to skip it and I said no, we’re this far, I just want to see what it’s like and then we can go. The front looked nice and cheerful, as seen below.
The first thing we did was wash our hands. There was an old wet towel to dry our hands on, which I did, wondering if I had just defeated the purpose of washing my hands. I noticed that C. just shook her hands and avoided the towel. Then, we entered the room with the young toddlers (ages 18-24 months). There were three caretakers in the room with two babies on the carpeted floor with them. Most of the other babies were asleep. C. went and picked up one that was awake and crying and he stopped crying immediately. I put my purse down and lifted a little girl out. We sat on the floor and I just rubbed her back and rocked her. C. had warned me that they used cloth diapers and that sometimes they leaked so I tried to be alert to any untoward sounds or smells!
After about five minutes it was clear that naptime was over because one of the caretakers got up and unceremoniously picked up each child and plopped him or her on the floor. Some kids were disoriented and were unsure as to what had just happened; others started wailing. Right away the other caretakers gave each child half a banana and soon the room was silent. They were all great eaters! After that it was just general roaming time.
The photo below shows C. with four of the fourteen children who live in this room. Their cribs ring the room. You can see it’s not a very large room. We spent the rest of the time just basically sitting there holding whoever wanted to be held. Meanwhile, the caretakers took each child one-by-one and changed his or her diaper and wiped their faces. Then, the caretakers left us alone! (There was one young girl there with her baby who sat in a rocker and watched us.)
With fewer people there were a lot of unattended children and of course, whoever cried the loudest got our attention. In an effort to pacify several at once I dug deep into my educational repertoire and stood up and got several clapping their hands together. Then, we patted our heads, then our tummies and then touched our toes (to learn body parts in English). Some got it and some just kept clapping their hands throughout and one or two could not be appeased by my antics and just kept crying.
It was about this time that I noticed that I felt totally fine, no more upset stomach. This made me think geez, was I more nervous and squeamish than I thought about going to an orphanage? I guess I imagined an icky, dirty place with lots of babies with runny noses and diarrhea. I’ve seen too many Save the Children TV commercials.
These babies were well-fed and healthy. Apparently prior to 2003 there were lots of deaths so they started to screen them for HIV/AIDS and other illnesses before accepting them now and no babies have died since then. The group actively tries to seek adoptions, foster parents, or reintegration with the natural family for the babies.
Here’s some background on the House of Moses — the organization was started in 1998 with five dumped babies by the Christian Alliance for Children in Zambia. Its name comes from the story of Moses in the Bible, where as a baby he was found floating in a basket among the reeds by the Pharoah’s daughter, who adopted him.
We stayed for way longer than I thought we would and it was hard to leave. We knew the instant we put the kids down they would start crying. So, we plotted our getaway. First we thanked the caretakers and then, on the count of three, we put the kids down and waved bye-bye as we left. We felt really bad leaving a room of crying kids! But, at the same time I know the research shows that infants in hospitals and other institutions who are held at some point during the day do better than those who are not held. Our contributions were a fraction of what the kids needed but with the help of the many other volunteers who come to the House of Moses, hopefully we can plug some of the holes in the children’s care.
p.s. Here’s a story of how one baby came to the House of Moses (original found here: http://www.chrf.org/zambia-house-moses.htm)
No Crib for a Bed: A Christmas Story of Hope
The morning train to Lusaka was bursting with sound and color. People were crammed four across on benches normally meant for two. Boxes and bags were everywhere, as well as several caged chickens who were squawking out their accompaniment to the loud music blaring from the tinny speakers. Amazing Grace was playing.
How appropriate, the grandmother thought – except perhaps for the chickens, she added to herself with a smile. It was Christmas morning and the train was packed with people traveling to be with their families for the Christmas holiday. Everyone was so happy. The young mother hadn’t seemed very joyful, though. The elderly lady looked down at the tiny baby in her arms, and then looked anxiously out the window again. The mother should have been back by now. She was just a girl, really. And she hadn’t looked well at all. Too frail. Weak even. And she had had such an odd, sad look in her eyes as she handed over her baby. She had been traveling for hours and hadn’t brought any food with her, she had said. She wanted to go buy some bread and fruit from one of the vendors on the platform. But where was she? The last of the passengers were climbing back onto the train. The grandmother could hear the conductor shouting their eminent departure. Where was the mother? In a panic, the grandmother realized that the train was starting to move.
Suddenly she caught sight of the young girl on the platform. She was just standing there, staring at her. Why wasn’t she running for the train? What was she doing? Their gazes locked and in that brief instant, the young mother’s heart was laid bare. Tears were streaming down her thin cheeks. Her mouth moved in one word: “Please.” And the grandmother understood. As she lost sight of the girl, she looked down at the baby. So tiny. The grandmother lifted the blanket and saw the newly cut umbilical cord, still covered with fresh blood. The baby couldn’t be more than a few hours old.
We don’t know what the young girl’s story was. It is likely that she was ill and knew that she couldn’t care for her infant son. But she had hope that he could find a better life, and so left him in the care of a kindly grandmother. The young girl chose well. The elderly lady brought the baby to the authorities in Lusaka, who brought him to the House of Moses, a place of refuge for high risk infants. Most of our babies come to us as AIDS orphans, their sick mothers having died soon after giving birth.
We named the little Christmas baby Emmanuel. He has since been adopted by a Zambian family that was praying for a baby boy. He is now thriving in a loving home and, as his mother so desperately desired, this little boy’s hope for the future is indeed bright.