Casa Hogar is an orphanage that Traveler Not Tourist sends volunteers to. It is run by four live-in "Tias" (aunts, in Spanish) who only receive free room and board and do not get any breaks from their job. Tia Sonia is usually with the bebitos, Tia Gladys is with the bebes (ages 2-4) and Tia Rosilla is in the kitchen. Mama Lilia is all over the place but she's the boss so she does office work, too. I speak a lot of Spanish at work because the Tias only speak Spanish to volunteers, although I think they all know some English. There are currently 16 children, from the ages of 5 weeks to 8 years, but Casa Hogar does not accept children over the age of 5. The government sends them children who are in an unhealthy home situation with the goal of eventually reuniting them with their parents or any other family members. However, the government does not send them any financial support or resources and Casa Hogar relies entirely on donations.
I work 5 hours per day, 5 days per week. I take the bus to the orphanage, which takes about 20 minutes but sometimes I have to wait a long time to catch one, or a bunch pass by and they're too full. There is no timetable, you just go to the stop and wait for a bus. They can be as small as a catering van or as large as a school bus, but usually they're more the catering van size. I am usually standing and I am too tall so I have my neck at a 90 degree angle. The bus costs 70 centimos, and you have to yell out your stop like BAJA MERCADO VILLA HERMOSA (stop at Villa Hermosa Market) or BAJA ESQUINA (stop at the corner).
A (not so great) picture of the buses here. The wooden sign on the front of it lists all the locations, which you need to read quickly to determine if it's the right bus, and then you can flag it down. For instance, I take the B, but there are about 7 different B buses that all go on different routes, so I need to look for the Graficos San Luis B.
Alto Selva Alegre neighborhood, where the orphanage is located
Morning or afternoon, I'm usually with the babies. There are 3 babies, two are 5 weeks and one is 5 months. I have to feed the babies milk every 3 hours from formula, and usually change a TON of diapers. They use cloth diapers, and I am super fast at changing them now. Usually Cristina, one of the 5 week babies, is crying. She is quite a fussy baby, and most of my time is spent trying to get her to stop crying, and taking care of the other two. When everyone is asleep and happy it is very gratifying.
Baby Riana, 5 weeks
Baby Cristina, 5 weeks
Baby Gonzalo, 5 months
If I'm not in the babies room, I am probably putting laundry up to dry or folding laundry. SO. MUCH. LAUNDRY. There are 16 kids so you can imagine how much laundry there is. I might clean a bathroom or 3, which is done with a little bit of powdered soap in cold water, a scrubby pad off a sponge, and a piece of sweat pants that are cut out and put over a broom (the mop). Cleaning here is very different than at home, and especially at a orphanage I was expecting to use a lot of harsh chemicals to clean things.
Laundry on the roof
Helping in the kitchen is fun, because the kitchen Tia, Rosilla, is trying to learn English and she is super nice. She's the youngest of the Tias and I have yet to see her get angry. As with laundry, there is always dishwashing to do. There is a specific way to clean the dishes, and you really can't use that much water. But of course, it is cold water. It's so odd to me that they really don't want you to come in if you're sick but then they clean things with cold water. I am noticing a lot about my own culture by seeing the way they operate down here, like how germ-phobic we are when it comes to raising children.
The kids do homework when they get home from school around 2, but I have yet to help with this. I usually have the best Spanish of the other volunteers I'm working with, but they always want me with the babies! Tutors from the community come to help the kids with their homework.
The kids play on the roof with their toys, and the younger ones need supervision during this time. The Tias give the children so much love, even when they are fake crying, which makes our job a little bit difficult. Usually it's pretty fun though, and the children are generally adorable and well-behaved.
When it's dinner time there is always one kid having a meltdown (out of 16 kids one is bound to be exhausted or cranky), and they don't have a big meal. Usually it's something desserty like puffy rice cereal or something hearty like oatmeal. I have been asked to stay for dinner many times and usually it's pretty tasty. They expect you to finish everything on your plate like the children do, so if I ever get asked to an egg salad dinner, I will decline.
It's been a great four weeks and I am starting my last week at the orphanage today. I am usually exhausted at the end of the day, and I have decided I am not going to have 16 kids at once, even if I had 3 other women to help me out. Next week I start working as School Project Coordinator at the Flora Tristan English program that TNT runs, so I will be even busier! More on that soon.