Friday, January 5, 2007

Christmas with Malawi's orphans

My sister and I attended a very special party over the holidays. There was no champagne, no party dresses, no hor d'oeuvres. We ate nsima and a bit of stringy chicken, sat in a cramped sitting room, and danced with about 40 shabbily-dressed children to 50 Cent on an old tinny stereo. It was one of the best Christmas parties I've been to in a long time.

Edward, a man who cleans the floors in my office, felt called several years ago to do something about the large number of orphans in his community. With his wife, he formed a local organization to provide food, housing, and school fees for the neediest of those children. The first orphan they took in, a little boy named Aaron, died of AIDS in the first few months, so the organization was named Aaron Orphan Care in his honor. Edward spends all his weekends, evenings, and holidays working to improve the orphanage, and he and his wife are amazingly committed to the organization.

Aaron Orphan Care now supports about 80 children, many of whom are HIV-positive. These children are usually brought by relatives who have little means to support them, and range in age from 2 to 18. The children live in the small main building, or in rented houses with volunteer caregivers. They receive meals each day at the center, their school fees are paid, and the caregivers are given basic items like blankets and clothing for the children. A nearby plot of land was recently bought, and food for the year is grown by the volunteers.

The children were really excited to meet us, and every single one wanted to shake my hand (more than once). Their clothing was tattered and worn, but the children were healthy and active, and the center was filled with books and pictures of their activities.

My sister, a schoolteacher, raised donations from her students and colleagues. She ended up getting two large bags full of clothes, stuffed animals, books, art supplies, and toys. Every single child was given a stuffed animal when we arrived, and they all wanted to have their picture taken with them.

I could understand how Madonna could come to a Malawian orphanage and walk out with a baby - I had the same impulse of just wanting to take one of them home so that I could provide a good life. The girl in the picture here was so adorable, and sweet, and sharp as a tack - keeping up with all the older children's jokes and games. I've never been able to imagine adopting a child before, but she definitely raised the notion in my mind. The youngest of the group, she had been with Aaron Orphan Care almost her whole life. You could see how the other children protected and doted on her, and you got the sense that these kids have formed a whole new family together.
After lunch, we were treated to a performance by a bright, articulate group of the older boys in the orphanage, and then the caregivers sang us a song of welcome and thanks. This was followed by a poem, a small play which sent the children into great giggles, and a few short speeches.
I'm looking forward to my next chance to go back, and I plan to take the staff of the orphanage to a local garden where they demonstrate high-yield gardening practices to improve their crops. Jorge would like to get more involved as well. In my work, where I am so far removed from the children who ultimately benefit, it's nice to be able to just hold a child's hand and give her a new toy, and to see the happiness that it brings.


Miriam said...

Alright. I'm Back! I got dad to send me your site again. Nice job of writing up the details of our trip. I think from now on when people ask me to tell them about my trip, I'm just going to direct them to your blog. You're so much batter at describing the whole thing!
Love ya!

Miriam said...

Oops, I meant better, not batter.

Paga said...

Hello, this is Paga. Loved your blog!