Are you interested in volunteering at the Mampong Babies Home? Click here to learn more.
40 children between the ages of 2 months and 6 years, all screaming, covered in pee and climbing on you, sounds like heaven right?
This is everyday life at Mampong Babies Home in Mampong, Ghana. A partner of the Light for Children organization. The Mampong Babies home is situated in the Ashanti region, two hours north of Kumasi. The home was founded in 1967 when the Sisters of the Order of the Holy Paraclete (OHP) in Whitby, England used to administer the Mampong Maternity Hospital for the Ghanian government. The morality rate was very high for mothers and children during and after birth so some of the locals asked one of the sisters if she could keep a baby when the mother died, knowing well that if the mother died, the baby usually died as well. The need for an organized care of maternal orphans was clear. The extended family system, which is traditional in Ghana, means that extended family shares the same responsibilities as the nuclear families. These extended families were ready to take the children as their own once the child could walk and was thriving on local foods, so the sisters of OHP agreed to keep the babies until they were about 5 or 6 years old. And so the Mampong Babies Home began at first in a prefab bungalow and later in a purpose built children block home. The OHP sisters retired in 1982 so the Home is now managed and funded by the Anglican Diocese of Kumasi. The home can currently hold up to 50 children but is facing overcrowding and need for expansion. Many times children are nursed back to health but families refuse to take the children back because of financial responsibility and stigmatism.
Christina and I had the opportunity to work at the Mampong Babies Home for three full days and stay in the nearby village of Nsuta. After taking the 2 hour tro tro ride from Kumasi we got off at the station and knew the town was a little different than Atonsu. The Nsuta lorry station was one tenth of the Kumasi station and was almost empty. Our Nsuta host brother, Little Mike, picked us up from the station and brought us to where we would be staying. Christina and I stayed in a room on the balcony of an apartment building which contained a bed, fridge, toilet and shower area. This wasn’t quite what we were used to in Atonsu, but working in Africa is all about adaptation. Our breakfast was brought by one of the children each morning in a basket and we normally ate dinner at our host family’s house.
Without a doubt my favorite part of the trip to Nsuta was working with the children in the Babies Home. Although we only worked for three days, those three days were filled with some of my most enjoyable times in Ghana. Christina and I would arrive at the Mampong Babies Home at 9am each morning and would be greeted by what felt like hundreds of children running at you, all wanting to be held. Even though it was still early all the children were up and running around. Once we put our bags down the day seemed to run like clockwork. To have this make more sense there are 3 different age groups of children-
1. Babies: Age 2 months to 1 year
2. Toddlers: Age 2 years to 4 years
3. Pre schoolers: Age 4 years to 6 years
Our days ran as so:
Arrive at 9am to all the children awake, running around, and dirty diapers leaking and smelling of pee. Of course they all wanted to be picked up and held but getting my clothes stained with pee was not something I wanted to do early in the morning. The pre schoolers would eat first only after they were sitting quietly on the benches outside of the room where they all sleep. We would give them cups of rice porridge and small pieces of bread which they devour quickly. They drink mugs and mugs of the porridge until their bellies are protruding from their small body frames. One breakfast is finished for the Preschoolers they go to the bathroom and are brought into another room to get changed for school. All the pre schoolers attend a day care center and nursery school which is also run by the Babies Home. The uniforms, pink checkerboard shirts and blue shorts for the boys and pink checkerboard dresses for the girls, are in a heaping pile on the ground and we must scrounge through them to find one that remotely fits them. While the pre schoolers get dressed the toddlers and babies are brought to the benches to be fed a lighter rice porridge. We lay out a mat on the ground and the 15 of them are laid down and fed bottles of warm milk. The babies who can’t feed themselves are brought from their cribs and fed by us. I’ve fed quite a few babies in my life but there is something different about feeding a 2 month old fragile, malnourished baby. Some of the mothers of the babies died because of sickness and malnourishment, resulting in their children being born very pre mature and not properly fed. Some of the older babies have gained weight but the youngest ones bones create the form of their body and seem to barely have any meat on their bones.
After every child is fed the babies are put back into their cribs and the toddlers, by this time covered in milk, run around while Christina and I get things ready for their bath. The overflowing pile of clothes is plopped down on the ground and is sorted into general size piles to make it easier to clothe the squirmy kids. One by one the babies and toddlers are brought to the sink where one of the Babies Home workers wash them and hand them down to me. Sitting on the ground I lotion and baby powder them and pick out their shirt for the day. It was really fun to sort through the clothes and find the t shirt that fit each of their personalities the best. Christina then picks them up and brings them to their crib where their pants and diaper are sitting out. Proper diapers, like Pampers, are very expensive in Ghana so we were taught how to use a small towel and a plastic wrapping to make diapers. It took a few times to get used to but after having to diaper 20 twisting children you are a pro. I loved holding the babies after they were bathed, clean and fresh, ready for a day of running around, taking naps, and playing with us. Some of the trouble making kids would purposefully wiggle around so I would not be able to put a shirt on them and would laugh and run away to Christina to get a diaper. By the time all the babies and toddlers were bathed and clothed it was nearly 11am..and I am exhausted. The children now being clean allowed me now to pick them up and cuddle with them freely without the thought of getting dirty. Full of energy they would run down the hallway when I chase them and all crowd into a corner until they would crawl through my legs to get out. The small babies slept pretty much all day but when one starts crying one of the volunteers pick them up and rock them back to sleep.
Around 12pm Christina and I walk over to the day care center to help feed the pre school aged kids. When we step into the building they run towards you and climb like a jungle gym on your body. The food was brought out, normally rice or fufu and soup, and 4 children would sit down in front of you to be fed. If each child fed themselves the mess that would be made would be overbearing so it is much easier to have 4 people feed 4 kids at a time. This saves dirtying their school clothing and having to do more laundry. In the bowl you make small balls of the food and then feed in a line one by one. We say good bye to the pre schoolers after they are fed and head back to the main building to feed the babies and toddlers lunch. The toddlers again have a rice porridge and the babies are fed with bottles. Meal times seem to always be hectic at the orphanage because there are at most 4 people working to feed 20+ kids who are all hungry.
My favorite time has arrived, nap time. Following being fed and cleaned up all children are put into the cribs and quickly slumber hits and little snores follow. Worn out and tired ourselves, Christina and I grab our favorite kids to cuddle up to us and take a nap. I know it really isn’t fair to play favorites in the orphanage because all the children deserve the same love and affection, but it’s hard not to when one smiles and you are instantly drawn in. From the start I fell in love with one little girl, Abena. My first day at the babies home she ran up to me, grabbed onto my waist and put her feet on top of my shoes and wouldn’t let go, even when I walked around. She has the cutest little smile and big brown eyes to match. Being a little bit of a trouble maker she learned how to climb out of her crib and when she woke up from napping would run to me as fast as she could, hoping not to be seen by one of the Babies Home moms to get in trouble.
The home would turn silent when all the children were sleeping and often Christina and I would doze off with little ones wrapped in our arms lying on our chests. You feel their tiny heart beats and feel their chest rise and fall against your flesh. At that exact moment, I wanted to take them home forever with me. Forget the massive responsibility they carried with them, children are the cutest (and quietest) when they are sleeping.
The peaceful stillness wouldn’t last for more than two hours before the screams awaken even the sound sleepers. We are thrown back into work mode as hungry children are calling. The meal process begins again although by this time the pre schoolers have returned from school and have joined the trouble. The toddlers run in every direction as we try to feed the pre schoolers sitting down but little hands are constantly grabbing the food bowl making it hard to feed anybody in order. Babies and toddlers are fed their porridge and milk again, becoming even dirtier than before and are changed into their night clothes and fresh diapers. The pre schoolers are brought outside and washed in a big bucket and then too are given night clothes to put on. The children run around in the yard, wild and free, not having a care in the world. In their minds they are not orphans, but normal children with 39 brothers and sisters. The trouble makers steal toys from the younger ones, the little girl dirty their dresses in the mud, and the babies are being swaddled in the arms of volunteers, their dark skin soaking up some rays.
Christina and I say goodbye to the kids and return home, all we want to do is eat dinner and go to sleep, just to wake up the next morning and do it all over again.
40 children between the ages of 2 months and 6 years, all screaming, covered in pee and climbing on you, might sound like a nightmare for some, but this is everyday life at the Mampong Babies Home, and for the 3 days I worked there, there is no place in the world I would rather be.
Are you interested in volunteering at the Mampong Babies Home? Click here to learn more.