Welcome to Soweto!

We left the hostel bright and early Friday morning and after dropping off four of the group at the bus depot, we headed on to the orphanage (called Othandweni) to start volunteering.  We arrived there very early, so the volunteers that were already there were still sleeping, so Harry (the Awesome Travel guy) decided to show us around the mall and help us get our groceries for the week.  Little did we know this would turn into a 3 hour adventure.  The mall walking part was very quick, as the mall isn’t that big and most of the stores weren’t open yet.  But then we got to Pick n Pay, the grocery store and realized we had no idea what was already at our cottage.  Did we need salt & pepper or olive oil?  What about butter?  And then it turned into what do we want to make for dinner all week?  What does everyone like?  Who can actually cook?  So you can imagine there was a lot of time wasted just trying to think of things to make and then the ingredients needed.  And of course, there was a lot of chitchat and story telling!  Even though it was long, it actually ended up being really fun!  And kind of like being a celebrity since we were the only white people in the entire mall, and so many people would just stare or randomly say hello to us because we were white.

So we finally returned to the orphanage and dropped off our stuff and got a tour of the orphanage, which includes a nursery, 6 cottages (including ours), a hall, kitchen, library, board room and offices, a playground and storage containers.  There are 30 kids in the nursery (newborn to 4 years), and 60 kids ages 5-18 that are housed in 5 cottages by age and gender.  Then we met the 5 volunteers that were leaving who gave us lovely parting advice: There are rats and cockroaches, don’t open this trapdoor cause the rats are up there, good luck!!!  And off they went.  And the three of us turned to each other and said, WHAT???  Rats and cockroaches?!?!  And I was just thinking, I can’t live here with rats (cockroaches I’ve dealt with before in Mexico), what are we going to do?  But Harry told us it was normal and not to worry about it.  Easier said than done.  But we pushed it out of our minds and got down to the task of cleaning.  There were some ladies cleaning out the bedrooms for us, so we got busy in the kitchen/dining area, since the last group hadn’t left it very clean.  We didn’t actually do any volunteering that day, since we spent all afternoon cleaning and settling in and getting dinner ready.  Then we each had to figure out the best way to take a bath or “take a bucket” as Antoine christened it, as there is no shower, just a tub and a bucket!!!  It’s an interesting experience to say the least. I also barely slept that night because I was so scared of the rats. Once it gets dark they start gettin active, and you can hear them running across the ceiling, which freaked me out.



Our “bucket room”


So Saturday was our first real day of volunteering, we were so excited!  Up at 6:15am, we got ready and headed to the nursery for 7, to assist with bath time and getting the kids dressed for the day.  That part went pretty well, and then it was out of the bathroom to the main room of the nursery where the cots are and where there is a big space with a carpet where the kids can play.  And it was chaos.  Imagine 20 or so toddlers to the 3 of us all wanting attention and climbing on you and tugging at your clothes and yelling at you and fighting with each other to get to you.  We literally had to rescue Antoine from the floor where he was buried beneath a pile of children and couldn’t get out.  After about 10 minutes we were completely exhausted and stressed.  After a while breakfast was served and we helped feed some of the kids that need assistance, and then they told us to go for a break.  And we gladly went.  At the cottage, it was quiet until I finally turned to Antoine and Roberta and was like (please don’t judge me just yet!): “Guys, this is going to sound horrible, but that was awful, I don’t know if I can do that, especially for two whole months!!!  I don’t think I can ever have children, I can’t handle that.  I’m a terrible person!”  And what a relief when they both told me they felt the exact same way, so at least we were all horrible people together!!!  That first morning was completely overwhelming.  After out break, we went back somewhat reluctantly, but things were actually a little calmer, and they brought chairs out for us to sit on which made a HUGE difference.  Sitting on the chair where only a few kids can be on you at one time, as opposed to the floor where you had kids jumping on you from all directions, made it bearable and saved our sanity!


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My Buddha baby (face blurred for security reasons)


By lunch time, we were feeling better about things.  And then Harry came back, this time with a new volunteer that was joining us, Loren from New Zealand.  So we went on the tour of the orphanage with her and got her settled into the cottage and Harry left us, and we began to prepare her for the nursery, lol.  Except her introduction to the kids was sooo much better than ours.  Cause when we went back, they were still napping, and only a few were awake, and then slowly the others woke up, and they were still pretty sleepy, so they were pretty quiet.  And we only stayed in the nursery for an hour before we got a ride back to the grocery store so Loren could get some stuff that she liked.  Then it was dinner time and bucket time and we had to keep telling her not to judge us, that we were not completely terrible people but that she’d had a nicer intro to them than we had had.  I don’t think she really believed us, I think she thought we were exaggerating.  Little did she know.  She experienced it first hand the next morning (hahahaha!), and then she totally got it!

Okay, so again, please don’t judge us (you weren’t there, you don’t know, lol), after a few days we got into a rhythm, we started to get to know some of the children and they calmed down a bit and things got much, much better.  I’m back on board with having children of my own, lol.  Plus, as we came to find out on Monday, weekdays are much less chaotic, because there is a granny program (we love the granny program!).  Every weekday, grannies from the community come and volunteer their time with the children.  They come for breakfast and assist with feeding the kids, then they take them to the hall and play with them.  Each granny has two children that she takes care of.  Sometimes both kids go the hall and play together, or sometimes they take one for a while, then switch out one child for the other and they get some one on one time.  Then they come back and help with the lunchtime feeding and then the kids go for their nap and the grannies go home. It’s a really great program, it gives the kids some individual attention and the grannies can assess their development and skills and see if there are any problems.  There were also OT and PT students that came and took kids individually to work on their skills and development, which is great.

I have to say, all in all, the orphanage is not what I imagined.  I don’t know what exactly I thought it would be, but something more in the line of depressing and grey and dreary and bored, listless kids just sitting in their crib being ignored.  But it’s not like that at all.  The kids outgoing and happy and the women who work there really care about them, and they’re decently fed.  They have a routine that they follow and lots of people from the community come by and visit or donate things.  So all in all it’s much better than what I had thought it would be.  Of course, that’s not to say that I wouldn’t prefer it if they were in a good home with loving parents, but if you have to be in an orphanage, this is a pretty good one to be in.  Okay, and since this has already been pretty long, I’ll save the rest for next time!


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