I went to the orphanage in town for the first time about 2 weeks ago with our team of residents, doctors and some visiting volunteers. It was a great chance for me to get my hands back into medicine for a brief time. I enjoyed working with one of the residents as she obtained a history and examined a 9 month old child with cleft lip and palate for his “well check,” examining the child myself, and managing to communicate very primitively with the worker responsible for him during the day.
There were 6 or 8 children in the room between 6 and 18 months, with about 5 caregivers that are employed by a foreign NGO. Some toys sat on a low shelf, and the caregivers seemed to be involved with the children. They showed me their teaching manual which was in both English and Chinese, discussing development and other good things.
Despite these relatively promising signs, however, I was saddened by the lack of noise, vocalization or laughter in the room. Along the same lines, there were no books visible at all.
I asked if they had any books, and they laughed and said that kids this young can’t learn to read so they get to look at books when they move up to the 2 year old room and are old enough for books.
I fished out a little picture book from my backpack (yes, I was much more prepared this time) and handed it to a 15 month old, which the kid was greatly fascinated with. He began turning pages and pointing at pictures and immediately became more interactive than seconds before. The caregiver quickly returned the book to me so it wouldn’t get messed up.
One of my dreams is to cultivate good relationships with the caregivers at these facilities, just like I did with the parents of my patients in my practice in the US, so there is a baseline level of trust. Only then can I hope that we as a team can make inroads into the culture of orphanages and hope to turn things in a different direction.
I will be visiting this orphanage quite a bit over the next 2 months, so look for more musings on this topic soon.