Tuesday, 25 March 2014

The Weight of the Wait

Days pass. The kids are growing up. Away from us. Growing older, but without getting what children need: love, warmth, attention, stimulation.

We talk quite a bit about the orpahange where they are, because it is a place of contradictions. For our western eyes it looks incredibly poor. I was shocked to see they only had one toilet, for about 30 children and 12 staff. I also noticed that there was only one tap in the whole orphanage, connected to one of those plastic water drums on the roof. It was outside and it was used for everything: from washing babies and making formula, to cleaning your feet and face after you come back from school every day. The water from the tank is used for drinking, personal hygiene, as well as handwashing clothes and plates. Rows and rows of freshly washed clothes line the small yard. 

There is no kitchen as such, but a little portable barbecue-like contraption that gets lit twice a day and where the food is cooked. We watched the ladies cook one day and it was fantastic, yet so different from what one imagines you would need in order to cater for 30 (I guess a lot of the babies only eat formula, but still...)

This poverty of the surroundings starkly contrasted with the emotional wealth of the ladies there. These women, 12 altogether, though in shifts, seemed to genuinely care for the little ones. However, and this is what I try to explain to my friends and relatives who do not get institutionalisation: this is not what kids need! It is simply not enough. One carer for six babies below five months is not enough. The children learn day by day that their cares will not be met, that no matter how much they cry no one will come for them, comfort them, pick them up, change their nappy, feed them. The silence of the baby room is deafening!

And so our baby too is growing bigger and older. He is learning to smile and sit up. He is still sucking his thumb. He is learning, every day, that no one comes when you cry. He is learning that he is alone in the world and that the world is fundamentally an unsafe place. And if you think I am exaggerating, read this study on the neurodevelopmental effects of institutionalisation in infants and this on some of  the emotional effects (also this if you want to read more). And all of the above compounded by the trauma of losing your first family...

So when I whine about the wait, when I moan about the numerous delays, about the paperchase, about the endless "next weeks" (because right now it does feel endless) it is not because I want to be a mum tomorrow (though that would be nice). It is because I know that with everyday that passes changes occur, that will be hard to fix...

And I fully realise that the additional wait is there because there are new proceducers, procedures which are meant to safeguard children and I applaud that with all my heart. On the other hand, a big part of me mourns for the little baby who will spend one more day in the silent baby room. The wait for the weight is knowing that these kids are leaving a precious part of their childhood in the soiled sheets of an orphanage. 

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