I saw babies left in their cribs all day long, only held when they were fed watered down milk. I saw toddlers laying in their cribs all day because they were so malnourished and held so infrequently they couldn't even hold their heads up, roll over, or sit. I saw 2 and 3 years olds who couldn't walk yet, who sat and played in their own urine. I saw courageous beautiful mamas trying to care for babies and toddlers who couldn't even sit on the own, 2-3 year olds that scooted around on their bottoms all day and a few older children (3-5 years old) who could walk. I saw them, sometimes only 2 at a time, frantically running around trying to care for the 35 + children under their care. And these amazing women LOVED these children, there was no denying it. They did the best they could with what they had, but it was not enough. There are so many children I could tell you about...
One little girl I couldn't get my mind off of. She looked like she was 5 months old, but she was 14 months old. She couldn't sit, roll, or hold her head up. Her eyes haunted me. She was never held. She only laid in her crib and rocked her body back and forth, no expression on her little face. All I could see was a little girl who had seen so much pain in her life that she had hidden herself far away from us all, far behind a big protective wall. Hidden, so no pain could touch her anymore.
Her mother had died giving birth to her and her twin sister. They were taken to the orphanage immediately, in order to save their lives; their family could not take care of them (remember formula costs $70/month per infant; average income for a family is $30-40/month, if that). They were put in a little blue crib together. They were fed watered down formula about three times a day until they were 6 months old and then watered down porridge with powdered milk if they had some. They came to the orphanage when it was full of babies and children, about 50. There were 2-4 mamas to care for them all. They were held only to be fed and the nipples on their bottles were cut open so that the feeding would even go faster. They were changed three times a day. They were not held for the rest of the time.
Then after about 7 months, one of the little baby girls got sick, and died. Chito Wambili was the one left behind, the younger twin. First she lost her mother, who had carried her for 9 months, then she lost her twin sister, who she had first shared the womb with, and then her crib with--what indescribable loss and pain. And you could see it, in her eyes. I remember reaching out and touching her arm, her hand. She shuddered, pulled away, and continued to rock. Back and forth, back and forth. Even now, I cannot help but cry thinking of her that first day. The day my heart broke.
*for the follow up on this story, please read this post