My first visit to the orphanage

18 September 2005
6:26 PM

This morning I went with Caitlin and Emily to an orphanage just around the corner from my family’s apartment. There we met up with Chuck and Kevin, two religious who are also studying Spanish at the Maryknoll Institute. We arrived, I saw the basic setup of the place, and then we jumped into the fray.

There were thirty-something four-, five-, and six-year-olds sitting on mats watching TV and playing with an assortment of toys. Kids greeted me shouting ¡Papá! (“Daddy!”). I took a tip from Chuck who said that his main goal is to touch the children as much as possible. The ratio of children to caretakers is obviously much higher than in typical family situations, so many of the boys and girls don’t get much attention.

It didn’t take much effort on my part; within seconds of sitting down, I had three kids on me. I helped them with their Duplo blocks and I entertained one niño for about 15 minutes when he realized he could stuff his teddy bear up my sweater and it would disappear. Then he tried to put the bear in my pants pocket, but I informed him, “No hay espacio para un oso en mi bolsillo” (“There’s no room for a bear in my pocket.”)

When we went outside to play on the playground I learned a lesson that I’m sure all parents will echo: kids aren’t clean. One little boy decided to go to the bathroom right in the middle of the playground. Wait! It gets better: a girl thought the stream of urine was a cool fountain so she ran her hand through it. And since I’m relating this story, you can probably guess who’s hand that girl grabbed next. It suffices to say I washed my hands thoroughly later. As they played, the kids were always yelling for me to watch them do this or that.

After the playground I went to see the babies. What I saw was at first cute and then saddening. In one room there were 22 cribs, 22 blankets, 22 spit towels, and 22 thin pillows. And, of course, 22 babies to use them. The youngest is two months old. Several were born this year. They show up in various ways; most of them are abandoned by their parent(s).

I sat outside with a group of babies that was spending some time in their walkers. I met Victor and Gabriel, two in-walker babies, and taught them some valuable lessons. There are some things that you shouldn’t eat; this is yellow; that is blue; you can shake this to make more noise. Finally! I’ve met some people that know less Spanish than me. They were both so small that they couldn’t wrap their hands entirely around my little finger (and though I have big hands, I have pretty thin fingers).

As I left the orphanage, I saw some pictures of hope in the hallway that serves as the entrace and exit. There are photographs of kids with their new adopted parents hanging on the walls. In fact, an Italian couple left yesterday with their second child—they wanted a playmate for the baby they adopted here a few years ago.

I asked the woman in charge if I could take some pictures of the children. She said that I could so long as they are for my personal use only. The next time I go, you can expect a more visual description of the place.