Sunday, July 20, 2014

My Joburg adventure

So last week (Monday and Tuesday) I went to Joburg (short for Johannesburg, the capitol, and no, I'm not trying to sound hip, EVERYONE calls it Joburg. It's like saying D.C. instead of "The District of Columbia.") I was visiting a friend, Shoshanna, who I met online through a Facebook adoption group.

Shoshanna volunteered at a baby home, TLC Children's Home, during the summer for several years before moving here seven years ago. She works as a teacher in a private school, as well as teaching music lessons. She has adopted four children since moving here and volunteers at TLC in her spare time, taking the kids along to help. She really rocks as a single mom! Her kids are all awesome. =)

They are goofy.

We were messing around in the car waiting for Mom.

I want my own kids now. =) I mean, you all know I did anyway.

Driving, and the most awesome dreads ever. 

Cutie. He looks like an older version of our Small.

So I really enjoyed hanging out with their family! I rode the Gautrain (pronounced something like Howtrain, only more gutteral) to Joburg on Monday morning. I truly enjoy using public transportation. Is that weird? This is the only form I've ridden on so far. I'm bound and determined to learn to use the bus to get around. Unfortunately, "taxis" (minibuses) are off limits, which is sad because they are so cheap and go so many places...although I'm allowed to ride one if I go with Joy. So that, too, is on my bucket list.

Shoshanna and the kids picked me up at the station and took me back to their house, where we had delicious hot dogs that actually tasted semi-American instead of like Spam. Later that afternoon, we headed off to TLC to love on some babies. It's south of Joburg, outside the city on a farm. They are trying to be a little more self-sufficient by growing some of their own food. 

It's a small-ish private children's home, between 30 and 40 kids, mostly babies and toddlers. The lady who founded it adopted 18 (?) children. Then some of those kids, when they grew up, adopted kids. They've placed upwards of 800 kids, which is pretty awesome. It was opened before the end of apartheid, which I also find fascinating. I guess they had a really hard time at first. The social workers would rather the black babies die in a hospital than be raised outside of their race. Sad, huh?

I was really glad to get out and see another baby home. At the same time, though, it was really sad. There are so many kids waiting for homes here. Child abandonment is soaring. Although they've helped a MASSIVE amount of babies find homes, which is AMAZING, it is still more of an "orphanage environment" and I'm really sad the children don't have families, which would give them more stability in their lives. They struggle to get volunteers and the volunteers work 13 hours days, 6 days a week. I think I would have a really hard time if I were to volunteer there. I've been pulling 60 hour weeks, but that is a whole other ball game! All of the long-term (several months or more) volunteers are from foreign countries, as it's hard to get full-time South African volunteers. 

This sweetie was in the youngest baby room.

We spent several hours here, in the 6-12 month old room. There were babies EVERYWHERE.

"Pick me up and looooove me!!"

This little one was my darling. She has CP and just LOVES to snuggle. Anyone want to take her home? (Please? Preferably someone close so I can babysit...)

I liked babies even before coming to Africa, but now I LOVE babies. =) Ok, I'm not always predisposed to loving cranky ones at 2am, but, you know...<3

All lined up for their feeding

All in all, it was interesting to see a different model of orphanage care than the one I am currently serving at. TLC is infinitely better than a government orphanage (which are often staffed at a ratio of 1:30 - yes, that is one caregiver to 30 babies). It's not what I'm used to here where I work. But, they've managed to find homes for SO many babies and children - that is amazing.

TLC also ends up with a fair number of children with special needs. They do their best to find them homes and will keep them as long as they can, but sometimes the social workers intervene and place older (5-8 year old) children in mental institutions. :'( It is very hard to find families in South Africa willing to take children with special needs. Shoshanna took me to visit several of the children who had been transferred.

The institution was considered to be "top of the line" here in SA. In reality, it was like a poorly run, understaffed nursing home. They keep the kids clean and well fed, and they get them out of their beds during the day. It's better than the many infamous Eastern European mental institutions of which I've read. 

But, the children just SIT. They sit in neatly lined up rows of wheelchairs, staring at the walls or the children around them. There is no love, no interaction beyond what is necessary. Sometimes they wheel them into the sunroom and play music.

Not living in a family truly takes a toll on these most vulnerable of orphans.

We visited three sweet children - an 8 year old boy with hydrocephalus, a 5 year old with microcephaly and CP, and an 7 year old with cortical blindness and CP.

This was sweet "K." She was around 5 I think. She could crawl around on the floor, but is stuck in a wheelchair. Not for long! We freed her for the few hours we were there. After getting some snuggles in, we let her play with Shoshanna's kids. 

"R" can also crawl and would probably make progress with physical therapy, but "look, we are working on his mobility with a wheelchair!" The sad thing is, he now prefers the comfort of his chair to doing anything else. We tried to place him on the floor but he quickly became agitated and CLIMBED ONTO his chair. I may not be a therapist, but if this child is capable of climbing into his wheelchair (using both arms and legs) they should probably take their "mobility" goals up a notch.

This little darling broke my heart.

This is "S."

When she left the baby home, she could sit up unassisted. She was aware of what was going on around her. She could talk, at least some. 

She can no longer sit alone.

She is losing her speech. (It may be completely gone.)

She used to be able to sing, to repeat after you like a little mockingbird.

This little bird no longer sings.

She is fed, she is clean. But she is caged. She is not loved. She wants love, more than anything. She melted into our arms and stayed there, for hours, just like the picture that you see above.

Because, they are not given love or affection here. You know why? "They would get used to it." Shoshanna is only allowed to visit once a month - any more frequently is too often.

This makes my soul ache - even more so because I see their perspective. It's not just that it's harder for the staff - although I'm sure that's part of it. It is this question - is it better to love them a little, infrequently, and open their eyes to what they are missing so that they ache and cry for love all the hours we can't be with them? Or is it better to let them stay numb? I can't adopt them, not at this point in my life. Hopefully someone else will (PLEASE DO!!!). I can pray. But I also want to be Jesus's hands and feet. What does that look like? How do I keep from causing these sweet babies, made in God's image, more pain than is already in their lives?

In the eyes of those here, this place is what these children need. We had the chance to talk to one of the parents who had a daughter here, and in her mind, this was what was best for her daughter. "This is just good for them - the routine, you know. I tried to take her home once, but she was so upset by bedtime, I just had to bring her back." Keep in mind this was a mom who, from all appearances, loved her daughter very much.

And as a friend pointed out, where do you start? With these kids, who are at least fed and sheltered? With the many others who are starving and living in far less optimal conditions? (I've been to the orphanage in Pleven, Bulgaria, where just several years ago they had a 14 pound 14 year old due to the deplorable conditions.) Also, at least these parents let their children live. In my one friend's culture, they kill babies with special needs at birth - violently. In my other friend's culture they don't even offer them the small mercy of a quick death - they let them starve. Those horrible situations, though, don't justify these children's sterile, loveless environment.

We live in such a sin-sick world, hey?

You know, it could just as easily have been me in that wheelchair. No, it wasn't, God had a different plan, but He could have just as easily placed me there and "S" in my place. There is nothing that separates me from her, nothing that makes me "better." She needs love just as much as I do. She is just as precious and valuable in God's eyes. She needs a home. She needs a family. She is not on any agencies' waiting lists. She is invisible to all but those who already know her, or see her on a daily basis.

Pray hard.

Shoshanna's kids with "R," "S," and "K."

"Defend the poor and the fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy." Psalm 82:3

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