The Azil, the feeding center, is an enclosed compound, which also contains a school and a small chapel. Graceful women, in Mother Theresa’s white and blue flowing cloth, care for the children. They seem to know each child’s story by heart. Dina was horrified when the nun told her, with little affect, the number of children whose mothers had died and the one baby that was found in the toilet. The children are grouped by age with rows of metal cribs or small cots – the babies have their own room, toddlers in the next, 3- to 4-year-olds up front. We are allowed to “take a child” from their bed, but must remember which bed they came from so that the child can be returned to the correct bed. The importance of this became apparent to me when the nun, Sister Shwe, pointed out to me which children were being treated for tuberculosis.
We played with the children and helped to feed them all morning. Their 10am snack is a quarter of a hard-boiled egg, half a banana and half of a special nutrient bar that is made for malnourished children. The bar reminds me of a softer, vanilla PowerBar; the children know how to squeeze out every bit of its contents. Some children do not want to eat, and that’s where we come in, encouraging and cajoling a bit of protein into their swollen tummies. The babies are fed formula; Viola and Dina worked the bottles along with the Haitian staff.
Playing with the littlest ones is like being in a corn maze: the sweet soul of a child is deep inside and yet finding it through the malnutrition, the abandonment, the loneliness, is often hard to find. Matthew rolled a ball to 4 standing 2 year olds with no squeals of joy or even movement on their parts. That is, for the first 5 minutes. When I returned to the room, Matthew had worked his way through the maze to find their playful selves. The children were running around the room, rolling the ball and running after it. The pursuit of little victories is why we are here.
It was easy for Dina to encourage the 4-year-old girls to dance with her silly, ukelele songs. Daniel played with the children with ease, creating a spontaneous finger puppet show, playing catch with the older kids and lining up Nicholas’ donated matchbox cars for the toddlers. Tyler held some sweet children until he realized that the nun was trying to create a cardboard mural of a church. This is his jam and what he will be helping with for the rest of the week.
Only one thing: no pictures allowed in the Azil. Hopefully we can take a picture of Tyler’s creation at the end.
So, here are a few pics from our afternoon orphanage visit. 10 children stay in a small, cement house. We were able to donate enough money for Mitial, the director, to buy 5 new cot mattresses so that fewer children needed to sleep on the floor.