Monday, October 6, 2008

FAQ: Care Centers/Orphanages

Before I respond to your questions about the care centers and orphanages, I want to take a minute to clarify the difference between the two, especially since I don't know who all is reading this!

Did you know that in the US, we do not have any orphanage, and we haven't had them for decades? American children, for better or worse, are in the foster care system or placed into group homes.

In Ethiopia, there are orphanages. There are private orphanages, and government run/sponsored orphanages. I was able to visit 3 government run orphanages during my trip: Kolfe (for boys age 12+ years), Kechene (for boys and girls 0-12 years and older girls age 12+ years), and Kebebe (for boys and girls age 0-12 years.)

Try to imagine what these orphanages are like. Have you ever visited a developing nation? I never had, and because of that, I really had no frame of reference for what to expect at the orphanages.

The facilities that we visited were all built in the 1960s or before. Updates and renovations all seem to be sponsored by NGOs or individuals, so as you can imagine, the facilities are not always "modern." (Ryan explained that one of the orphanages only got indoor plumbing within the last few years- and only because a NGO sponsored the renovations.) Kolfe is by far the most "behind" in terms of facilities, and Gladney does use a portion (I have no idea what portion) of the humanitarian aid and donations to help better the facilities and education of the boys at this orphanage. Gladney also works with the other government-run orphanages to try to meet some of the needs there.

The orphanages are not staffed as you would expect, given the US standards for caregiver-child ratios in day cares and group homes. At Kebebe, the "baby room" had one adult and one older girl (maybe age 10?) to care for about 20+ babies and toddlers. For the older children, I saw 1 or 2 caregivers for about 50 kids. These employees are also responsible for cleaning the children's rooms and common areas, as far as I can tell. Thankfully, the "older" kids tend to look out for the "younger" kids (ie- the 7 year olds take care of the 3 year olds.) Not at all what I expected, but this is the way things are in Ethiopia. This is their "normal."

Basically, the government provides food, some clothes, and a few employees for these orphanages... that's not much when you consider that these orphanages are supporting about 125+ children, each. Every penny of aid supplied to these orphanages is needed. Every penny.

Now, the Gladney Care Centers are different. For most of us, our children come to the Gladney care centers from an orphanage, or perhaps they are relinquished, processed through a private orphanage, and sent directly to the care center. I am not sure if some of the older children are placed directly from the orphanages, but I believe all the kids spend time at the care center before placement.

If I had to make a comparison, I would say that the Gladney Care Centers are similar to a 24 hour day care. Now, I don't mean a day care by US standards, but the care centers are very nice by Ethiopian standards. They are in a very nice neighborhood, and the homes are nice and large by Ethiopian standards. The care centers are kept clean, and the kids have clean clothes and nutritious foods.

Now, you have to keep in mind that it would be unfair to compare these care centers to similar US centers. Ethiopia simply does not have the same resources as the US, and they don't have access to the same supplies. Similarly, there are vast differences in culture when it comes to raising, teaching, and nurturing children. We cannot expect that the care centers will be like the US when they are in Ethiopia and run by Ethiopians.

Additionally, some of the things you would expect in a US center are simply not logical in an Ethiopian care center. For instance, toys that require electricity or batteries are just not going to work well or last long in Ethiopia- at least not in the way they were intended. Additionally, the care centers are constantly fighting against germs- viruses, bacteria, fungi, protozoa, etc. In the US, we worry about colds or maybe the flu spreading among the kids in a day care; in Ethiopia, they not only worry about colds, the flu, pneumonia, and such, but they also have to worry about diseases like giardia, ringworm, and tapeworms. So the equipment and toys in the Ethiopian care centers need to be very easy to clean and hold up well to frequent cleanings.

Keeping that in mind, I think the care centers are very nice by Ethiopian standards. The employees were constantly cleaning... well, everything! The caregivers were interacting with the kids, and the primary caregiver for each child knew exactly where that child was developmentally, as well as how to make them laugh within seconds:)

Now for some specific questions:

  • What was the orphanage like?

I have described the actual orphanage and care center facilities above. But I don't think that is what this question is about... The orphanages were overwhelming. There were so many sweet children, and all I could think was "who will be their mommy? Who will tuck them in tonight? Who will tell them what they were like as babies, and when they got their first tooth, and when they started walking, and what their first word was? Who will love them?" For me, it was one of the saddest parts of the trip- especially for the Kebebe and Kechene orphanages, where kids younger than Abigail were looking after toddlers.

The care centers were a totally different experience. In a way, they were more chaotic because there were so many more people- especially adults- trying to talk to you. But it was a more hopeful experience for me, because I knew who would be the mommies and daddies for these babies. I knew that each and every one of them was going to be matched or had been matched to a family who desperately wanted and loved them. I guess I "worried" less about them- and I knew that until their mommies and daddies could come get them, they were being loved and cared for by some wonderful women.

  • Did they have enough toys?

Honestly, I don't think I saw any toys at the orphanages. I am not sure if they didn't have any, or if I didn't see them, or if they were in such bad shape that I didn't recognize them as toys.

At the GCC, the kids in the baby rooms had a few small toys that floated around the room to whoever was awake. In the toddler room, there were a few toys out when I arrived. I came at a non-play time, so I don't know if there were more toys or what. But honestly, most of the toddlers weren't interested in toys so much as just chasing each other and playing with the caregivers, Abigail, and I.

If you are interested in giving toys to either the orphanages or GCC (I am sure they could be used at both places) I would check with Gladney first. I am not sure if they have a list of specific needs or if the orphanages have restrictions on what you are allowed to give the kids. At any rate, keep in mind that most of the older kids speak very little English, and read even less English,so elaborate books and games would probably not be very popular.

As I said above, keeping things clean and having toys that are easy to clean and can hold up are very important. I think that for older babies/toddlers, some good toys would be plastic blocks, plastic balls, "Little People" type toys/cars/planes/people and plastic dolls. I would avoid those "soft and cuddly" toys because they are so hard to clean and do not hold up well. Additionally, the best kinds of books would be picture board books (the caregivers don't read a lot of English, in general.) The toddler room might also benefit from a small "Step 2" type table and chairs or a small slide.

  • Were the kids able to play a lot of the time or were they in their cribs a lot?

At the orphanages, the kids that were not in school pretty much seemed to run around and "play" as they wished. I didn't personally observe any organized play (games, art or whatnot) but that is not necessarily representative of what happens when the Americans are not there... Most of the babies were in their cribs, and the older babies/toddlers were running around in the baby room. I will be honest- it was a bit chaotic!

At the GCC, the babies pretty much seem to stay in their cribs unless they are being held by a caregiver. Within their crib, they can play with toys, sit up with a Boppy pillow, etc. The older babies are pretty active within their cribs, and learn to pull themselves up, grab toys from the caregivers, and in at least one case, terrorize their neighbors:) The older babies who are working on walking skills do spend one-on-one time on the floor with the caregivers, but the older baby area is not made for playing on the floor, so once the older babies can walk independently, they are moved to the toddler room (as space allows.)

In the toddler room, the children have their own cribs, and have toys inside their cribs. They are able to get out of their cribs to play and run around. I think the care givers avoid letting them all out of their cribs at the same time to avoid having too many collisions between those "toddling" toddlers:) But the kids in the toddler room were all very familiar with what to do when their feet hit the floor! And man, some of them were quite fast!

  • Were there any obvious needs?
This is a difficult question. At the orphanages, there were lots of obvious needs- more than I could ever list here. The needs were varied- from the need of a physical therapist for one of the children, the need for a VP shunt for another child to correct his poor vision caused by excess fluid in the brain, to the need for more caregivers, food, and clothes. There were a lot of "obvious needs" to me.... but at the same time, the needs were pretty overwhelming. I don't think any of us are prepared to meet the "needs" that an entire orphanage has.

At the GCC, I would not say there were any obvious "needs" but then, I also think my response is being formed based on my ideas of what "needs" are. The children are in safe, comfortable homes. They have enough caregivers, food, clothes, diapers, etc. They don't have as much "stuff" (ie- toys) as American children, but they were clearly having fun and enjoying themselves, so I wouldn't call that a "need." The children were kind, engaging, and responsive (at least to their caregivers). They were, by and far, developmentally appropriate, and had evidence of growing and developing. Therefore, I would say that their "needs" were more than met.

At the same time, there were several things that could enhance their lives, but if I had to make the choice between giving to the GCC and the orphanages (and I am not trying to tell you what to do, just what I would do...) the orphanages have drastic needs. The GCC have "wants."

  • Does Gladney run the older kids' homes as well?

Gladney has a "baby house", an "older baby/toddler" house, and an "older children" (age 2+) house. The truth is that we all know older children are less likely to be adopted, and since the roll of the GCC is to provide a "daycare" setting for a child until they are placed for adoption, Gladney simply does not have as many older kids in their care. But the older kids are absolutely adorable! We got to spend some time with them and they are very sweet. I would say that in general, the older kids are much more shy.

  • Are the care centers well equipped, or would they still benefit greatly from donations/humanitarian need?

The GCCs are well-equipped, but only because of the continuous influx of humanitarian aid. The $200 of diapers, wipes, formula, clothes, etc. that are required of adoptive parents do, for the most part, stay at Gladney. But what you may not realize is that Gladney gives $1000 of your "fees" as a humanitarian aid donation to be used in Ethiopia. This money has been used towards different projects, such as refurbishing some of the facilities at Kolfe. All of the Ethiopian orphanages would benefit greatly from any donation made. Like I said, the GCCs are nice, and with the humanitarian aid as well as whatever budget Gladney allots them, they do well. But the orphanages are different. Every penny counts there. It's hard to explain until you see it. But once you see it, you will be left with the feeling that you wish you had done more.


baby changing stations said...

Quite a good blog.Loved to read it.From my very childhood i had decided to give helping hands to the orphans and love and care to animals.I am 24 now and think this is the right time to move ahead to fulfill this job.

Rebecca said...

Thanks for all the info. It really helps to know all of this!

By the way. I know you were speaking of Eli when you said that in one case, they even terrorize their neighbors :) He is going to be so lonely when he comes to our house! Although, he may terrorize our dog. Poor Tallulah.

solas4me said...

What good information! It is helpful to read gives us a better picture of what our baby "A" is doing and how we can help the care centers when we finally get to go hold that precious bundle!

Heather said...

Thanks for such an informative post! I am trying to read as much as I can to prepare.

Do you know if you can simply make a monetary donation to the orphanages?