Here are a few photos of the orphanage in Dakar, where I spend most mornings or afternoons during the week. There are 45 children here ranging in age from a few days to 10 months old. Sadly, all of their mothers have died, but of the 45, only about 11 are truly without families. The rest eventually will be taken by an uncle or cousin or some such, but often these families just either cannot afford the time off or the formula or all of the other things that are required to raise an infant. So this orphanage, run by Franciscan nuns and by nannies-in-training, supports them in the interim. They see to all of the children's needs for the first ten months. Their families often come and visit them on the weekends or sometimes during the week; it is always very sweet to see them with their babies. After 10 months, the babies go to their families, and the orphanage provides additional doctor visits or vitamins, etc., for an additional year. It is a very solid program and has been running on private donations for 50 years.
During my first visit I was afraid it was going to smell like pee or just be terrible and that I was going to hate it, but actually I LOVE it! I love going there, I love all the little babies and even though I leave exhausted and peed and spit upon and with the crying of babies still ringing in my ears, I always am glad I went and I always feel like it was good work to be there.
The first photo is of feeding time. You grab a baby, you grab his/her bottle, and you join the circle of feeding and burping, after which diapers are changed (instead of baby wipes they just run their little bums under the faucet, and instead of pampers they use cloth diapers wrapped with cut up plastic grocery bags). (I actually did not recognize these cloth as such, because they're just long rectangles with string ties on each of the four corners, and so I once tied one on as a bib. The women didn't really laugh at me, they just very politely took it off and replaced it with a bib. I didn't realize until a few days later what I had done.)
Then we lay the babies out on the mats for playtime (above). Some of the babies cry all the time, and those usually are the ones that get picked up the most; the quiet ones sometimes hang around all afternoon, smiling and just looking around and never getting hugged or even touched until it's time to be changed or moved back to the cribs. I've started to make a point of picking those little ones up the most. We each in a pinch can hold two or three babies at a time (yes, even me), and I try to have at least one of them be one of the happy ones. Although they're all happy once you pick them up. Almost entirely.
This third photo is of one such child. (Sorry, I can't rotate it.) My sweet Aminata. Aminata is five months old and the most amazing little baby. She smiles so easily and sincerely that you think she adores you most of any person she's ever met. And then you see her do the same thing for someone else two minutes later... She almost never cries, even this past week when she has been sick with what I suspect is the highly contagious foot and mouth disease that has been circulating around the orphanage. It is a viral disease that causes blisters that scab over, and although it's a bummer, it supposedly runs its course in six to ten days. A few of the other babies have had it as well but I've just now figured out what it is (by going online -- to visualdxhealth.com, if you ever need to self diagnose. It is awesome! Scary pictures of all sorts of things, though, so that you're full-on itchy after five minutes of browsing.) Anyway, even though I've been fine so far, I have decided to take a few days off until this thing passes through the center. Once you get it, you're supposed to be immune to it, and I think it will be over soon.
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