Friday, February 18, 2011

"Two to a crib"

I recently became aquainted with a woman named Barbara from Fox Island who traveled to Ethiopia for three weeks and volunteered in an orphanage.  She has shared beautiful and heart-breaking pictures of the Ethiopia's landscape and gorgeous children.  With the pictures are countless stories, and I just try to soak in all the information.  In her words, "information helps broaden our collective spirits."

Below are her observations and sentiments about the orphanage she volunteered in and the children she helped care for.  (I added the italics.)

Kechene was a so called "governmental" sponsored orphanage.  It was in a compound type setting, concrete wall and concertina wire surrounding the entire place.  Tall trees, dry dirt.  There was a playground type area which the kids never used.  One of my awakenings was that the children had never "learned" how to play and did not participate in that as they had no curiosity for it.  So we played, but there was often competition for my attention and it would then often lead to fights.  The kids were so desperate for attention which then becomes a frightening aspect when they get older - what kind of attention do they seek out when they have the free will to go outside the compound?  Kids from the orphanage were also known by the community as "orphans" and were ostracized because of it.  It was so sad, I wanted to bring all of them home with me. 


village gardeners

produce stand

The girls and boys were in the same facility until about the age of 5 or 6, then they are separated between different facilities.  There was one woman who "directed" the entire facility, with maybe 8 caregivers.  The caregivers did all the cooking, clothes washing, looking after babies, changing diapers, feeding all of this for around 180 children at the time I was there.  There was a school within the compound, but it was not being used.  The older girls - maybe around 10-12 and older did go to school outside of the compound, but the government didn't think the younger kids needed school and so there this beautiful building sat, unused.  The girls helped with the laundry - they used an old wheelbarrow to bring dirty clothes to the laundry house and clean clothes back.  All the clothes were heaped in a pile and the kids would sort through them picking out something to wear.  There were not shoes for everyone and often times I would see kids with two different shoes on.  They have thick calluses on their feet, very dirty and I don't know how often the kids could get a bath. 

So, the kids pretty much have to occupy themselves each day.  Some of the older kids would go into the nursery and pick up a baby  - they seemed to have favorites and maybe take them outside but otherwise the babies just laid in their cribs all day - two to a crib.  Most of them had flat heads in the back because of this.  There were 30 babies in two small rooms from infants to 2 years of age.  Sophia and the caregivers were very caring women, it's just that there were so many children they couldn't possibly do anything more than attempt to keep up.  The first weekend I was there 10 babies were dropped off in the middle of the night that they had found on the streets.  They had been abandoned by either young, sick parents or by older grandparents who simply couldn't afford the care of a baby.  The cycle repeats over and over again.  Bottles are propped up on blankets and the babies turn their heads to the side to eat, the smell of sour milk permeates the air. 

Kechene didn't have a car and so when children were sick - and I mean really sick - they would have to call a local taxi to get to a doctor.  My family put money in a special account that could fund doctors appointments and medicine.  Five babies died while I was there.  The government didn't show up once, didn't provide adequate supplies...........we bought hundreds of diapers........diapers were only changed for poop and often a wet diaper weighed almost as much as the child!!

diaper change line up

So many, many stories, I could go on and on............I know that there are many that are run far better, but this was my experience.  All in all however, the children appeared to be well managed and cheerful.  One girl asked me in her broken English.............."do you have mother?"  I said, no (my mom died two years ago); "do you have father?", no I said (my dad died years ago); "do you have house?" - yes, I said..........."do you drive car?" - yes, I said.............."then you my new mother." In her mind, that was all that was broke my heart.  


  1. Rachel, this makes me want to get on a plane and bring babies home. This is so sad and it seems impossible to break the cycle of life there. God Bless you for taking this on!

  2. Okay, I definitely cannot I would end up arrested for smuggling children. Heart breaking.