This weekend was a busy one! I spent both mornings at orphanages near Mandalay delivering the donations that we collected from the used goods drive. It was really nice to see how happy the kids were and the other volunteers were wonderful! However, it was a little bit tough in the 105 degree heat!
Saturday morning, we drove South out toward the edge of the city to an orphanage for babies. The 30 kids there are all under the age of 6. We brought big bags of toys, clothes and supplies. First, we went into a sort of community room built under a palm-frond and wood thatched canopy roof. Before the donating, we had to follow customs and talk to the monks who run the orphanage. They also run a Buddhist school for local kids who can’t afford government school. The other volunteers explained to the monks in Myanmar what we would do during our visit. Then monks showed us the way up to the nursery, a mostly bare set of 4 conjoined long narrow rooms. Glass panels divided them but let adults view the kids in most areas all at once. There were a few shelves of blankets, clothes, minimal toys, a few mosquito nets, and other miscellaneous goods. First, the local women in our volunteer group chatted with the young teens who were there to help raise the babies. I understood that they were there daily on rotation, but not if they lived there or if they were paid for their duties.
While they chatted, I just smiled and nodded occasionally, but mostly watched the kids. They were cute- in thanaka (local face paint) and colorful clothes. I smiled at the ones that looked at me. They were giggling as they pushed and slid their pillows along the floor in a way that looked fun enough that I almost wondered if they even needed our toys. The monks prompted the ones that came near us to say mingalaba and they would let go of their pillow just long enough to put their hands into a prayer position and give a little bow with the word. When we brought in the big clear plastic bags of toys, the children quickly changed their focus. They all gathered in an arc around the bags, marching in place, clapping and chanting gaza-zaya, which means toys in Myanmar. When we went to open the bags, someone called out a command and the kids all quickly went to sit quietly around the edge of the room and waited with wide eyes for their turn. Each one came up in turn and accepted a stuffed animal, saying jezutinbadeh, mingalaba and giving a little bow. Then we passed out snacks too. They weren’t allowed to have juice for fear of diarrhea.
Then the children milled about with the toys and got changed for nap time while we chatted with the care giver girls via a volunteer translator in our group. Somehow the toys were all taken back from the children and put back in the bags and put away. I thought we’d given each child a specific toy, but apparently, we gave the collection to the group.
The leader of the Holding Umbrellas Foundation showed the care givers how to clean the floors, windows, and walls. She also instructed them on other hygienic necessities. I waved and smiled at the kids that weren’t napping yet. One cried instantly, just looking at my face. Another reached his arms up toward me and I took the cue. He was very content to be held and would have stayed there forever from what I could tell, but one of the caregivers came to collect him for his nap. The kids each had a place on a pillow for their heads and they slept soundly on the wooden floor.
We helped clean and talked more to the caretakers and learned that one 4-month old girl was left at the orphanage because her parents divorced and both remarried. Neither one wanted to care for the child, who also happened to have leukemia. She was thin and pale and slept through our entire visit.
There was also one baby that was only 19 days old. Her mother was unmarried living in Yangon and came up to Mandalay to have the child then returned to Yangon without it to protect the family honor.
After our visit, the volunteers shared that these same stories were told about a couple of different kids to a couple of different volunteers on different occasions. It’s hard to tell if it’s the tear-jerker, donation-jerker story or if the monks are confused or if there are similar situations for different kids. Also, I’m told the monks broke their code and straight-out asked for teaching help and donations for tables. Apparently they usually aren’t allowed to let on that they need anything unless it’s directly offered. There was also speculation among the volunteers about the lack of a head monk. Usually the older monks wear darker robes and are appointed, but here everyone had light yellow-orange robes. Everyone was a bit uncertain. Especially with my language barrier it’s nearly impossible for me to know what’s really going on.
Regardless, the children seem to need the help and care. I’m still glad to give them toys and clothes and for the foundation to help them with hygiene. No matter what the situation truly is, I hope our efforts can help, even if it’s just a little.
Tune back in later this week for the next installment of the story: Delivering the Donations: Yankin Hill Orphanage.