Sunday, October 25, 2009

in an orphanage - cochabamba, bolivia

The Millennium Casa Cuña (Cradle House) is an orphanage in Cochabamba that cares for babies and children from birth to 5 years of age. I have had the chance to visit, feed, and play with the 22 children currently housed here. I had never been in an orphanage until Casa Cuna, and I didn’t know what to expect from one in Bolivia, the poorest country in South America.

On my first day I walked through a neighborhood with flowering vines over-growing security fences, to a modest house. It was quiet and I headed up to the second floor to see 12 children under the age 3 – most of them sitting and waiting for help with their socks and shoes. It was 3 pm and they had awoken from an afternoon nap. The two not waiting on socks and shoes were Andrea (14 months) and Pablo (6 months). These little ones were in cribs and I remember Andrea was beaming from hers. Once all those socks and shoes were on we went outside where they sat at a long low blue table; we bibbed them all and they ate their snack (something oatmeal-like, bread, and dry cereal).

Once they were awake and energized, all the little people were ready to play. They poured out toys until the patio was full of teacups, wheel-less cars, baby dolls, stuffed critters, stray tiny wheels, and other sorts of worn toys. The older kids arrived from their kindergarten program and now 22 children in a variety of emotional states filled the patio! We fed them all again then cleaned them and their dishes and got them ready for bed. They sleep in 3 rooms in the upstairs area, and that evening the pre-bedtime energy was high and the rooms were full of bed jumping.

I was volunteering that day with students from several American universities. They are in Bolivia for a semester of study and service learning through Amizade.

Weenta Girmay, University of Pittsburgh, Current Bolivia Semester Student with Amizade and West Virginia University (pictured above playing with children in the orphanage) shared this statement:

”It's very difficult to look into the eyes of such an enthusiastic child and know that one day they will realize where they are, and how difficult life will be for them, and even worse, they will realize that it's for no good reason. I don't really know what to do about that, except for to play with them whatever they want to play and to make them smile as often as I can and to tickle them until they yell "bastante, bastante! (enough, enough)"

From Amizade’s director, Eric Hartman, I’ve learned that in Bolivia an average of 6 newborn and older babies per day are abandoned in the streets, rivers, even garbage dumps because their parents can’t afford to raise them. The Bolivian government places them in orphanages like Casa Cuña, but only provides 3 Bolivianos per day (less than 50 cents U.S.) for their care (that’s food, shelter, support staff, and all their material needs – and it’s a paltry amount).

Casa Cuña has operated for more than 10 years with the mission of improving orphaned and abandoned children’s lives and they work to provide a safe and healthy environment. What they are attempting is a challenge, which I feel inadequate to explain. The governmental funding falls incredibly short and Casa Cuña only continues to operate through the donations they received from outside sources – from individuals who have volunteered there from across the globe, and from Amizade, which offers some monetary support and places volunteers at the orphanage.

Currently there are two shifts, with two women each shift, to care for the 22 kids, plus some help from volunteers like me, but that's not as predictable. Caring for this many small people, at a demanding development age, is an enormous task. Tiny Pablo lays in his a crib a lot, and little 14-month-old Andrea is not walking or talking. Yet these children are in a much better facility than a state-run orphanage and I hope it stays operational. Things are improving and very obviously dedicated people look after these kids; still they all have lice, receive only 2 to 3 diapers per day, and need more nutritious foods, engaging toys, and more funding for staff support.

This Wednesday, October 28th, the Pittsburgh Foundation, is offering a 50% matching opportunity for Pittsburgh-based non-profits and Amizade is one of those, which means this is a great time to make our donations. If you would like to contribute go here, or:

1. Go to the Pittsburgh Gives website and create a LogIn now.
2. Return to the Pittsburgh Gives website promptly at 10am on this coming Wednesday, October 28th, LogIn, and make your gift. **Important** - The Pittsburgh Foundation has announced it will refresh its website at 9:59 am on the 28th, so that no one can LogIn before 10am and simply wait for 10:00. It is important, therefore, to LogIn precisely at 10am.
3. Find “Amizade” using the search box in the top right quarter of the page.
4. Click “Amizade”
5. Click “Donate Now / Donate to Nonprofit” in the top right quarter of the page.
6. You will have just leveraged your philanthropy considerably! Thank you!

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