Zambian Orphanage: Week 1
Volunteering at a Zambian Orphanage
Twelve children call the orphanage their home. There are six boys and six girls: Elina, Lushomo, Emely, Chipego, Joseph, Terry, Malenga, James, Namakau, Naomi, Mercy, Paul. All the children are from various backgrounds. They are the residents of Oz Kids International Orphanage, located in Mazabuka, Zambia.
Oz Kids was created and launched by an Australian couple in 2008. It’s operated and supervised by Uncle Clyde, a local in the area, as well as Auntie Agnes and Auntie Matinta. I knew ahead of time that the founders are Seventh Day Adventists. The kids at the orphanage are as well. I was a little worried that it might be too religious for me. But, I was determined to go and check it out.
Fortunately, the religion aspect has not been an issue for me. They do a small prayer before their meals. Each night they have a bible study where they read a verse and discuss it. The bible studies range from 5 minutes to 15 minutes, and usually involves a song or two. I sit and listen but do not participate in the discussions.
I see this volunteer effort as an educational opportunity for me. I’ve volunteered with Buddhists, Catholics, and Muslims. Their religious preference makes no difference to me. They go to church all day on Saturdays. So, Saturday mornings and afternoons are my time off. My “time off” request was happily granted. They do not pressure me into participating more than I am comfortable with, and I am grateful for the time off.
I arrived last week to a welcoming Auntie Agnes and Uncle Clyde. The four younger kids were taking a nap, and the older kids were still at school. I was offered a juice drink and bread with butter. After a short “get to know you” conversation, I settled into my “room”.
My “room” is a sectioned off corner of the living area. I have a nice bed, mosquito net, and small shelf. I also have my own guest bathroom with a western toilet! No shower… I take bucket showers in the babies bathroom. When I have time I boil water so I can have a hot bucket shower, but most of the time I just use the cold water.
We have cold running water and electricity. However, the water goes off randomly every day. Sometimes only for a few hours, sometimes it’s off for a day. We always try to make sure our water reserve barrels are full. The electricity also goes off at various times, usually during the day.
The Children: That’s what Oz Kids Orphanage is about
Ok, now about the kids! All of the kids are fantastic. They are very respectful and listen when you tell them something. I was worried that they would always be in my “room” going through my things, but they do not enter without asking me first. I spend most of my time with the four younger kids since they are home all day.
Emely is like my little shadow. “Auntie look, auntie look!” I hear her shouting with enthusiasm all the time. Little Lushomo is also a favorite of mine. He is just so cute and hilarious. I can’t get enough of him.
The kids arrived at the orphanage under different circumstances and at various stages in their young lives. One girl was found wrapped in cloth on the side of the road. A boy had his mom suffer a stroke during pregnancy that left her paralyzed, and his dad was already dead. A few were abandoned street kids from Lusaka. None, however, arrived due to HIV/AIDS.
My days are spent doing various activities with the kids and around the house. I assist with cooking, cleaning, bathing, laundry, management concerns, farming, and school work. Sometimes I am the only adult with the 12 kids! Now that is a challenge. All the kids get along for the most part.
Every once in a while one will pick on another one, or they will fight over something—typical activity when you throw 12 kids together, right? I put out a lot of fires, remind them to share, and to quit hitting the other one.
I brought kids’ books, school supplies, clothes, and shoes with me. With the help of Auntie Agnes we handed them out. After a couple nights doing homework with the older kids, I realized they needed a few more school supplies.
I went to the supermarket and bought pencils, workbooks, pencil sharpeners, and erasers for all the kids who are in school. You should have seen the looks on their faces when they each got their own erasers! It was like Christmas. It was a great reminder that is really is the little things that matter.
I eat what the kids eat for lunch and dinner. I just couldn’t keep eating the porridge they were eating for breakfast. So I bought some milk and cereal for myself… don’t judge!
Lunch is usually sweet potatoes, bread with butter, vegetables, or pasta. Dinner is often nshima, beans, and vegetables. It’s a treat if we get meat or rice, which is usually once a week. The first dinner I shared with everyone I was offered a fork. Since then, the fork has disappeared. Now I just eat with my hands like everyone else. It’s no big deal for me. I have volunteered in many places where this eating practice is common.
The real heroes here are Auntie Agnes and Auntie Matinta. They both work 12 hour shifts at the orphanage. They do the majority of the cooking, cleaning, and laundry. Despite there being three washing machines, none of them work. The aunties do all the laundry by hand—now that’s a lot of laundry for 12 kids, everyday! In addition, when the electricity is out, the cooking is all done over charcoal, one pot at a time.
The two younger kids don’t wear diapers. They just go potty in their pants, and when that happens we just wash them off and change their clothes. You can imagine how many outfits they can go through in a day.
I will never forget my first morning at the orphanage. Emely came up and said, “Auntie, poo poo!” I was taken aback by Emely’s exclamation. Emely described the situation with more detail, “Auntie poo poo on the floor in the lounge!”
“Oh no!” I thought to myself. I followed Emely into the lounge and there it was…shit! Not a nice pile or mound, but soft shit that had been stepped in and tracked all around. Elina, the youngest, was the culprit. We got her cleaned up quickly, mopped the floor, and changed Lushomo. Lushomo had the excrement on his shoes and pants. I took a step back and thought to myself, “Welcome to life at the orphanage, Crystal.”
I am so thankful that I was told about this organization. I am having such a fun time with the kids, aunties, and uncles. Life here is basic. I feel that’s important to experience this from time-to-time. It reminds me how lucky I really am. It puts things back in perspective. A reset, if you will…