I am working and living in an orphanage for 100 girls ages 1 to 18. Many of the girls here were abandoned or have a living parent who is unable to take care of them for one reason or another. So each child has a different story. Some are awful to hear. These girls have been through more in their lifetimes than I could ever imagine. I have become more thankful for what I have and how much love my parents, family and friends have generated in my lifetime. I know I have lived a truly blessed life so far and it continues to be blessed here in Bolivia.
The girls each have daily responsibilities for cleaning, cooking, caring for the younger girls, washing clothes, etc. In Bolivia, students go to school for only three hours a day, either in the morning, afternoon or evening (when there isn’t a holiday, strike or a national no work day). So our girls go to school throughout the day, going and coming when necessary. The education system is very poor, so we tutor them here in the orphanage when they are not in school. It’s very difficult, because almost every child lacks the basics. It is very hard to help the older girls with their algebra or physics homework when they can’t multiply or divide correctly.
One of my biggest responsibilities is the health care of the girls. I am in charge of all the medicines, cuts, scrapes, ear infections, emergencies etc. I’m learning a lot about third world diseases. We have six girls here who have tuberculosis of the lungs. They receive treatment at the local clinic. The first month it was every day; now it’s twice a week for six more months. They receive tablets each visit. So I make frequent trips to the clinic to bring the girls for treatment. I also take along any other child who has something that I don’t know anything about. There is lots of waiting involved in visits to the clinic. The doctors arrive at their leisure and see patients in the same manner. So it’s not unusual to wait all morning or afternoon to see a doctor. I am learning patience; it is a great time to spend with the girls, giving them one on one attention. I have gotten to know the doctors, nurses and workers at the clinic pretty well, too. This week I went six different times!
I am also in charge of a dorm of thirty girls ages 10 to 15. I need to wake them up in the morning at 6:30 a.m., make sure they make their beds, fold their clothes, do their chores, do their homework, go to school and have the lights off at l0 p.m. I eat with a table of l0 girls from my dorm. I really respect my parents for having three teenagers at the same time. These girls think they know all the answers, but are still looking for support. They also have frequent mood swings. One day a girl is my constant companion and the next day she won’t even talk to me for some unknown reason. Nevertheless, they offer lots of love and I’ve begun to develop some good relationships with them. They also help me with my Spanish. It is still improving each day, but I feel pretty good about it right now.
The girls all are looking for love and attention. I have begun to master the skills necessary to share myself among 100 children, each with different needs. Yet they all have one thing in common – a desperate desire to feel special. I no longer think twice of having five girls in my room, of holding four girls’ hands while two more are holding my skirt as we are walking to Mass, or of eating meals with a baby in my lap. I am getting great practice in parenting skills. These girls generate so much love and joy. I receive countless hugs and kisses each day. Each time I get tired or frustrated all I need to do is look at one of these girls’ smiles and I remember why I am here.