September 2011

Orphanage work - a fleeting influence

A sustainable producing garden with a healthy top soil.

The experiences of an orphanage volunteer; with just compassion and patience, everybody has the potential to make a difference to orphans.

By: Flora Glaister
Projects Abroad Volunteer
North Yorkshire - United Kingdom

Photo: Ximena Noya

As a first time volunteer walking through the gates of the orphanage, I was welcomed immediately. The Tia (Aunt), who I assisted during my time theremade it clear she really appreciated my help. I was to find her inspiring to work with, but even more amazing was the welcome that I received from the children. It is immediately apparent just how much they crave the care and attention of volunteers, and throughout my time there, I was to realise how important it is for this to be more consistent.

The orphanage consists of six ¨Casitas¨, or houses, of around 12 to 15 children. Volun-teers can work in these casitas accompanying the Tia in charge, who provides the child-ren with food and all the basic needs. The role of the volunteers is to entertain and sti-mulate the children providing them with structured days filled with activities. Food and clothes are imperative and the orphanage provides these by law, however in studies such as Julie Chandler´s ¨What orphans want¨, the list of priorities held by the orphans are as follows:

  • Having someone to trust.
  • Having a person who is committed to helping them.
  • Having "someone to hold my hand.¨
  • Having the moral support of friends.
  • Learning to be independent.

Volunteers have the opportunity to provide the orphans with all these things.

They entertain and bond with their Casita children by arranging games and activities such as origami or various arts and crafts. When there are more volunteers, it is also fun to join Casitas together for a game of football or basketball.

It is inspiring to see the children being happy and exited
Photo: Ximena Noya

It can be hard to get all of the children involved, claim many volunteers, as the children can be de motivated. The thrill of a competition soon begins to seem enticing, especially as the enthusiasm of the volunteers spreads. Your energy and your motivation are so important when working with the children and it is inspiring to see them become in-volved and excited. If you are uninspired, the children are also likely to be.

What strikes you is the lack of males around the orphanage. I saw three males who had direct contact with the children, and the response to these male volunteers was phe-nomenal. Daniel reading states, that it is ¨important for young boys to be exposed to other examples of responsible, moral men¨. A male influence is evidently natural and remains necessary to young children. It reflects not only social life but also life in both academic and work environments. Primarily though, it is clear that the presence of a responsible male creates a ¨secure, disciplined, and successful environment for children¨. She goes onto suggest that if possible, where no father is present, ´´ take the time to point out morally sound male influences so that the child is exposed to a proper “father-like” figure¨.

It is a shame that the orphans do not have this exposure because, with more male volun-teers, it is an attainable goal with widely recognised benefits and it is clear that male presence and attention would mean elation for the children, and be a healthy influence.

The children under six years old spend the mornings at the onsite Guardaria, which is where I was to spend my month, working from 8.30am to 1pm. The Guardaria has four classrooms, which house two classes of seven or eight children and has a large area for communal time or playtime. There is also a courtyard, where the children can play and keep their vegetable gardens. The children water these every morning, which teaches them the benefits of caring and working at something, as well as they have decorated the walls in handprints, along with their work and even posters dedicated to past volun-teers. These things make the Guardaria a truly personalised environment of which the children can feel proud.

I spent my first week assisting the Tia, providing the children with basic knowledge of classroom etiquette and social skills that will allow them to feel more at ease when they begin school outside the orphanage. I acted as an extra pair of hands, enabling her to complete tasks such as brushing the children´s teeth. In later weeks, I began to plan les-sons and activities that coincided with the week’s topic. This could be, for example, the number five or the benefits of recycling.

Many of the children come to the Guardaria with no ability to concentrate and they are often violent and unable understand basic concepts such as sharing. This meant my time in the Guardaria was emotional and as well as compassion, required patience. Armed with these attributes, I believe the time of any potential volunteer will be invaluable.

The children do activities such as threading and colouring, giving them the opportunity to develop their concentration. On completion of their work, they receive praise, which is very important for their confidence and motivation. It was rewarding to witness the progress made by one of the children who was new during my time there. I saw the pro-gression from this child not being able to hold a pencil and constantly stating ¨I can´t¨, or ¨ No puedo¨, to completing a piece of work in the correct colours and beaming up at me, asking for praise.

Although the child continued to lash out at other children, he soon learnt that violence is inexcusable. I witnessed the child gradually become included by the other children. Many of the children have come from violent backgrounds, however, when given the opportunity to understand alternative ways of dealing with life, it is common for them to adapt with a smile.

It is the patience of the Tia´s and the time of the volunteers that allow the children to become disciplined and happy and really express themselves. However, with more con-sistent role models and male influences, it is possible to create a stable environment for the children to learn and grow. Locals are in a great position to volunteer, whether for one day or one hour a week, consistency is something I really wish I had to give.

Cochabamba climbs high

Every single muscle in your body is contracted. Your mind is totally fixed on the next grasp over your right shoulder, which is nothing more than a narrow crack in the rock. The next second you will move your arm in one fluent move close along the crag to grab it and as your fingers feel the grip there is a fleeting moment of total weightlessness.

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