Before we left for Africa, as we were planning, the question often asked of me was: “And what are you going to be doing while Randy is working at the hospital?” My standard answer was, “I’m not real sure. I’m willing to do whatever God has for me. I could work with TESL classes, Bible storying, mentor teachers or just hold babies. I’m open to however I can be of help. I’m hoping to see where God is at work and join in.” Was that prophetic?
One of the things I have been able to volunteer for is the Crisis Nursery (one of several that are here in the capital). When we visited Malawi in 2010, one of the other missionaries we met took me to visit this nursery. When we arrived in February I contacted the Ministry of Hope to see if I could volunteer with one of their ministries. I was directed here and found it was the very place I’d visited before.
It’s in a small house that has 4 rooms with 5 babies in each, newborns to about 2. Most of the babies have lost their moms at birth and have no one in their family who can care for them as an infant. These are the babies who were dying in their villages due to severe malnutrition. About 60% of the babies go back to their extended family–grandmothers, aunts/uncles, fathers–once they are eating regular food on their own. Some go to foster care, some are adopted. Sometimes they go home and have to come back due to a poor environment for a child so young.
I go Monday and Friday mornings to help feed the babies, hold them, play with them and just be extra hands. The nannies who work in shifts (3 day shifts, then 3 night shifts, then 3 days off to recoup) each have their own room of 5 babies they care for. All are seasoned moms who have raised numerous children of their own and are wonderful caregivers. They certainly don’t need me but they have been welcoming, letting me feed porridge to the smaller ones and bottles to the infants. I try to leave around noon before the nsema feeding for the toddlers. Nsema is the daily diet of most Malawians, it’s cornmeal that’s been cooked to the consistency of a thick paste. They pour some broth and stewed vegetables over it, then you use your fingers to make little balls to soak up the broth, squishing it together, then eating it or feeding it directly into the child’s mouth. The one time I did this with one of the toddlers I had to change the boy’s clothes afterward and nearly had to give him a bath. Clearly I don’t have the finger technique down.
In many ways I am really superfluous and I feel they humor me by letting me come. But I have found it to be a great way to get to know Malawians in a specific setting and to build some relationships. As I come consistently, help where I can and affirm their good work, I find they are warming up to me. Some speak fairly good English so we can talk and they are trying to teach me a few chichewa phrases. They have a lot of volunteers who come through so they are use to visitors coming in snapping pictures and playing with the babies. I don’t know how many come regularly but I am glad I can for now.
The beauty and wonder is evident in each precious baby face, in each caregiver who loves, feeds and nurtures these precious ones as the hands and feet of Jesus doing “unto the least of these” and in the countless givers and donors, known only by God, who support this ministry in a myriad of ways. Miracles abound all around!