Volunteering in an orphanage – the 3rd eye opens and the heart follows…

After Ayahuasca I spent 2 weeks volunteering at an orphanage in Ecuador. I was covered in spit and puke and soup and poop. My hair is in tatters as it was pulled and chewed relentlessly and I got sick from washing dirty bums with my bare hands as the orphanage didn’t have money for wipes, but still I was in my element.

Having not spent much time with kids previously, I had no clue what to expect or what to do. I hadn’t even changed a nappy before but it didn’t take long before I was thrown into it. I swear there were days when every time a child came near me it was because he had a stinky bum that needed changing.

One of the long term volunteers told me on my first day that I was a natural with kids. I nearly dropped the kid I was holding when she said that. That’s not a sentence that I ever expected to hear but the more time I spent with them the more that I realised that she was actually right, which was an incredible and somewhat shocking discovery for me. I may have actually found my calling..

The conditions of the orphanage are actually very good. The workers and the long term volunteers do an incredible job but they don’t have money for simple things like a constant supply of nappies and wipes so the elder kids only get changed when they have poopey pants or if they are absolutely soaked through. This left some of them with quite nasty diaper rash on their private parts.

Working at the orphanage has been such an incredible experience for me. Just seeing the kids’ faces light up with a smile when you do the smallest of things for them or show them love and affection. It makes your heart melt and break at the same time. They have so much love to give, which they share openly after only a few minutes of meeting you. They are all such beautiful children and it’s hard to get your head around the fact that many of their parents have abandoned them.

I wasn’t aware of how much joy kids could bring – they have literally lit up my life the entire time that I have been here.

I have fallen in love with an adorable little 2 year old boy who I desperately want to adopt. Just a few days after I arrived, I went outside to find him laying on his stomach, crying uncontrollably and pounding his fists on the floor. I tried to comfort him but he pushed me away so I sat close by so that he would know that I was there for him. A minute or so later he came up to me with his arms outstretched and fell into my arms, with his head on my chest, still sobbing. He eventually fell asleep in my arms for the best part of an hour. I was leaning against a wired gate and the weight of him made the indentation in my back quite painful. The wire could have been burning permanent scars into my back and I still wouldn’t have moved and disturbed that child. That is the moment that I realised that I loved him.

He can be quite a naughty boy who is often put in the corner but we developed a really strong relationship and he was incredibly well behaved with me. None of the kids really speak yet although most of them do understand. One day, my little boy was sitting in his usual place on my lap, when another child came over and wanted to share his book. Sharing is far from his favourite pastime but I spent some time giving him lots of love, asking him to share, telling him what a nice thing sharing is to do and after a short period of time he handed the book over to the other child to share it with him. I gave him a big kiss afterwards and lots of positive reinforcement.

Later on that day, he came up to me with the same book and said ‘para te’ (for you) which other than ‘me, me’ and ‘no, no’ were the first words that I had heard him say (until he later called me mama). I thanked him for sharing and gave the book back to him. He opened the book and gave me half to hold whilst he held the other half. A while later I also witnessed him sharing the same book with the same boy. It brought me so much pleasure to know that I had had that affect. Such a small amount of love and attention and he had responded to it far more than all the times he had been put in a corner.

I loved working at the orphanage so much that I decided to go back for Christmas and New year. Christmas is meant to be all about giving but I feel that I have taken so much from spending time with these beautiful children.

My first day back at the orphanage, my little boy was so surprised and happy to see me. At first he was really shy and just stared at me from his cot in disbelief but then quietly came up to me and just held my hand in silence. Afterwards, he gave me a big kiss on the lips and when I tried to leave, he held my hand to the bar of his cot so that I couldn’t go. He even told me that he loved me – well ok, it sounded more like ‘I wub bu’ but I knew what he meant.

Whenever I leave the room he gets really upset. One day he stood at the child gate and cried until I came back from the toilet. Another time I had to take him with me to change another childs’ nappy as he was so upset and if I do manage to distract him enough to leave the room, I always find him waiting at the child gate for me to return.

When he sees me he will run across the whole length of the hall with a huge smile on his face and throws himself into my arms. It is difficult when I am doing a shift in a different room and he has to be prized away from me which gets him really upset. One day he saw me through the window to another play room and his eyes filled with tears and his bottom lip started trembling until I was able to calm him down by talking to him through the window.

I found out a few days after I arrived that for a week after I had left he was depressed and despondent and would not go to sleep at night which broke my heart. I was also told that since I had been back the permanent workers were having trouble getting him to sleep again as he would just cry and cry and that he wouldn’t do as he was told. I now put him to bed most nights and he goes down with no problem. I cried myself to sleep that night as I just felt so incredibly selfish that previously it had been all about me and how I felt about him. I hadn’t really realised that I had had such an affect on him. Worse of all, I knew that I was going to have to leave him again which killed me and to be honest, I’m not sure if I am going to be able to do it.

When I left the orphanage previously, I cried for the last 15 minutes of shift, the whole way home, most of the night and most of the plane journey the next day. I was crying for myself though and this time I know I will be crying for him, knowing what it is going to do to him. He has already been abandoned by his parents and now he is going to feel like I am abandoning him too.

His development has come on an incredible amount since I have returned. He sits with me all day with a book and is now speaking a lot more and doing all the animal noises that I have taught him. He wants to learn when he is with me. He shares whenever I ask him to now and he never has to be put in the corner when he is with me as if I a ask him not to do something he will stop doing it. He is incredibly responsive to me and well behaved which isn’t the case with the other volunteers or the permanent workers who can find him quite difficult to connect with and to stay patient with him. He often just shuts down and becomes unresponsive.

I understand this child. On the rare occasions that he does get upset in my company or starts to shut down, it takes me just a matter of minutes to bring him back round and put a smile on his face. When I first arrived at the orphanage, I very rarely saw him smile, instead he would be very winey and sad, yet since I have been back, he smiles and laughs all the time when he is with me. He is scared to do or try a lot of things but with my encouragement he does it.

It is so upsetting to think that there is a really big chance that he could be matched with adoptive parents who just don’t connect with him in the same way that I do and therefore his development could be stinted because of that, not to mention the behavioural problems which just don’t exist when he’s with me.

I have discovered through extensive research that the adoption laws in Ecuador are very tough. They no longer allow you to choose a child and if they know that you have worked in a specific orphanage they will not allow you to adopt from that orphanage. This is something that I find very difficult to understand.

When i think of the strong bond that I have developed with this boy and the way that he responds to me, I find it difficult to get my head around how that can not work in my favour in the adoption process. With adults, sometimes it doesn’t matter how hard you try to build or maintain a relationship with a colleague, friend or parent, sometimes you just don’t connect. It seems to me that it’s the same with children. The other volunteers have to work hard to keep patience with my little boy, yet some of them have a stronger connection with some of the other children than I do.

The adoption law tries to place children with families from their own countries first and they only go on the international adoption list when they turn 4 or have special needs or learning difficulties. I understand why they try to place a child in their own country first but feel that 4 years old is too old an age limit to start the international adoption process as it’s not long before the child will have to start school. This doesn´t give them much time to connect with the family and learn the language of the new country that they have been placed in.

There is no bilateral agreement between the UK and Ecuador which, by all accounts, means that I can’t adopt him. How can I not be allowed to adopt this little boy when we have already developed such a strong relationship and he already loves me as if I was his mother? The simple fact is, I can’t accept this and have to find a way to make this happen. How can that little boy be left in an orphanage being unresponsive to everyone around him when there is someone who desperately wants to and is able to give him a good home, with all the love and opportunities that he needs and can easily help him to learn and develop where others may struggle…?

I can’t explain the connection between myself and this little boy and I certainly didn’t go to the orphanage planning to adopt – I’m not quite ready to have a child of my own yet but this little boy has become a part of my heart and I am willing to make all the necessary sacrifices that a mother needs to make for their child..

NB: I tried various avenues to try to adopt this little boy but to no avail – it simply wasn’t meant to be. Whilst I didn’t fully understand it at the time, I knew that this little boy was a soul mate from the moment we met and so it took me a long time to understand why we couldn’t be together in this life.

Through extensive soul searching I have come to realise that sometimes the most important soul mates only need to be in our lives for a short time to teach us the biggest lessons. Through this little boy, I have not only learned unconditional love but I have come to realise that working in an orphanage is, in fact, my calling.

Although I don’t know exactly what form it will take yet, I know that I want to create something around an orphanage, perhaps set up a school – something that will give me the opportunity to not only give these children the love that they need and deserve but will allow me the chance to be able to help these children to connect with themselves, in a way that doesn’t happen in our school systems and society today.

Unfortunately the timing for this project has not been right yet and whilst the enormity of this project literally terrifies me, I know that by trusting in the process, I will get to where I need to be at the time that I need to be there…

Photos of children in Ecuadorean orphanages can not be posted on public sites so instead, here is a video of the amazing experience of singing the kids to sleep in the orphanage, Salvacion Fundacion, that I also volunteered in in Guatamala.

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