Being a Volunteer in an Orphanage
Being a Volunteer in an Orphanage
Volunteering refers to working without pay. It is based on the need to acquire skills in a certain field or profession, learning of new things and interacting with other people, especially of a different culture. It is a form of community service when done to benefit one or more people in a particular community. Voluntary work is mostly done for non-commercial organizations and time invested varies with the individuals and the organization being assisted. Some people therefore engage in full volunteering activities while others only do it partially in the curse of other work they undertake. One can volunteer alone or as part of a group of people for instance a class, family or any other independent group.
There are many advantages of volunteering. For instance, it offers an opportunity for helping those in need. This is among the main reasons why people volunteer. In so doing, they are being of service to others, a factor that provides a sense of well being and usefulness. Such people help in making a difference in the lives of those they are serving, for example, those volunteering at disaster centers, hospitals and orphanages. Their feeling of having helped another person gives them a sense of purpose and makes them feel appreciated.
Volunteers meet new people in their course of work. These people come with a variety of culture, skills, knowledge of new things and even a chance for new friendships. Their interpersonal skills are tested and improved if already good. It is also through this that job networks are acquired. For those volunteers who are already working, networking is beneficial in advancing their careers. This is because it provides an opportunity to meet potential employers and employees.
With all the above-mentioned benefits, it is crucial to identify the right volunteer opportunity. There are many places where one can volunteer, but the challenge is in finding what suits them best. A number of aspects have to be considered such as where to volunteer, duration of the program, whether one wants to volunteer alone or in a group, the weight of responsibility one is willing to carry and what is to be gained from the exercise. With these concerns dealt with, one can then proceed to select what they want to do from a list of options, most of which are available publicly.
Being a volunteer is one of the best experiences I have ever had to date. Volunteering provides one with a wealth of knowledge on so many issues among other advantages like the ones above. In 2010, I had the opportunity to volunteer at an orphanage in China. This was through an application in response to an advertisement I had seen online. We had just closed school and the thought of idling at home did not appeal to me. I enrolled for an exchange program offered at our local church that incidentally was with a youth group from China. In a previous class session, I recalled one of our teachers emphasizing on the importance of community service. Himself being a volunteer at the local community centre, he told us of the numerous benefits of being a volunteer, which inspired me to volunteer.
According to him, community service is not just a punishment given to social offenders or delinquent teenagers in need of correction; instead, it was one way in which a person could pay his or her dues to society. Currently, most employers are looking for individuals with personal drive, a quality brought out through volunteering most of which is unsupervised. Such persons are accorded priority in the job market because of their willingness to learn and their ability to adapt to new environments.
Volunteers are not always placed in areas familiar to them; rather they are dispatched to far off places in need of attention. Adaptability is one of the most sought after qualities in the employment field. With all this in mind, I had acquired the motivation crucial to such ventures when the reply to my application finally arrived. The volunteering program would take two months. After taking care of the necessary arrangements, I traveled to China. It was arranged that one of the workers at the orphanage would pick me at the airport. All the way, I was eager to explore the features of the new country and embrace my responsibilities at the orphanage. I already had my work schedule, which stipulated that I would visit the orphanage during the weekend for four hours each. The rest of the week would be spent sightseeing and engaging in activities for the exchange program.
The orphanages in China are run by the government, but most are highly populated yet understaffed. This overpopulation is largely due to China’s infamous one child policy whereby couples are only allowed to have one child each. Another concern is that many Chinese citizens are of the notion that male children are better than female ones, a factor that has contributed to abandonment of little girls. In addition, children with disabilities and those born with chronic illnesses were often abandoned by their families. Well-wishers that found them took them to orphanages. Therefore, they are always welcoming new volunteers every year to help relieve them of their workload. It was therefore no surprise that we were many volunteers all stationed at the same facility.
I was not the only foreigner working as a volunteer in a Chinese orphanage. Many people from all over the globe were inspired by the plight of the conditions at the Chinese orphanages and felt the need to help. This is despite the fact that the Chinese are often skeptical of foreign volunteers, whom they fear are only out to publicize the poor state of affairs at their orphanages. With so many activities to be undertaken, the number of volunteers at a time was also high. Much passion was required for anyone to be involved in such an activity. Although my initial reason for participating was simply to be part of a community service project and meet new people in a different cultural setting from mine, it was soon to change by the end of my experience.
My first experience at the orphanage was beyond what I had prepared for. A woman in charge of the facility took us for a tour of the orphanage and gave us details of the duties required of us. There were around three hundred children at the time, with their ages ranging from newborns to fourteen year olds who had lived at the facility for most of their lives. I realized that I had not researched enough material regarding the ages of the children I expected to find at the orphanage. It was sad to see the number of small children at the facility, and I instantly wondered what it was like to grow up in an orphanage. Seeing that we were new to the facility they stared back at us curiously from their activities as we passed.
Due to the facts available about China, it was highly probable that some of the children there were not orphans but children abandoned by their families because of various reasons. This crossed my mind especially after seeing the number of children that were sick or those with disabilities. There was a need to put in place ways of establishing a child’s family background before enrolling them at any orphanage. Being run by the state, the orphanage had a limited supply of resources required for its maintenance. This was evident in the way the sick children were handled; their treatment was hampered due to lack of medical resources. There was heavy reliance on donor materials without which many activities at the orphanage would stall. Although the locals also made donations, many of them came from abroad. Many global non-profit organizations sent money, material provisions and also recruited volunteers to work at the Chinese orphanages. The online advertisement was one of the ways in which these organizations sourced for volunteers.
The next day was the beginning of doing my duties at the orphanage. As a volunteer, there was almost nothing we could not do excluding tasks that required a certain level of expertise like those by doctors. I had a different experience in all the activities I was involved in throughout my volunteering period. On some days, we would assist in taking care of the sick children. A doctor would come and examine them, and I would help him or her with the children. This was through administering medicine, holding the infants during the examination, providing therapeutic exercises and feeding them. It was particularly a challenge when dealing with newborns during therapy. One could easily see the pain they felt in the screams they let out.
While I was satisfied that most of the time they were being taken care of, I felt that children with disabilities should be taken to specialized hospitals. The government should ensure that they are well taken care of by providing resources to transfer them to these hospitals. This is because at the orphanage, they rarely got the attention that sick persons fully require, a fact made worse by their frailty as children. During my entire stay, I could count the number of times that a doctor actually visited the facility. So infrequent were their visits that I got to know each of them on a personal level. Alternatively, the orphanage could source for volunteer doctors locally or appeal to international organizations. This would help ease the poor health condition of most of the children. Another way is to encourage more adoptions so that the children are taken care of by their new families who instantly assume responsibility towards them.
The best part about dealing with the infants was the feeling that I had taken part in nurturing them. Most children in orphanages do not experience the care and security that often comes with being in a family set up. While washing and feeding them, I had the chance to show them a bit of love, which I felt, was important in their growth. It was obvious that material tokens though necessary were not enough for their wellbeing. I learnt that some of the orphans had the privilege to be adopted thus they could experience the family environment. These adoptions were mainly done by foreigners, something not favored by the Chinese government despite their citizens’ inability to take in more children.
There were teachers who came to assist the children frequently. At times, I would help in teaching them English, a language with which they were fascinated. I loved their zeal to learn and wished they had the opportunity to advance their education outside the orphanage. The older children taught me a few Chinese words, and they would laugh and tease me when I pronounced some words wrongly. To them, I was speaking like a “crazy person”. The notion that they could also be of help to someone thrilled them, making the teaching sessions very enjoyable.
We interacted with the children through other fun ways such as playing games. As soon as they were done with their daily routine, we indulged in all sorts of games with the older children, always watching out for their safety. These were the only times when there was minimal or no supervision by the workers at the facility. There was always someone watching us mostly for security reasons. At first, I was wary of this but soon learnt to be at ease around them when I realized it was just a routine. As a high school student, not much time was spared for playful moments; hence, I relished the times spent with the children. Their joyous nature always made me forget their sad situation. The scene was like that of any other school playground.
My lowest moment came towards the end of my stay in China. It was triggered by a call from my mother who wanted to find out how I was faring. One of the orphans I was tutoring overheard my conversation and later asked me if indeed I had a mother. To her, being at the orphanage meant I had no parents and the news came as a surprise to her. I was taken aback by her reaction, one that also served as the turning point in my inspiration as a volunteer. Previously I was solely motivated by the desire to be part of a community project but that quickly changed. I saw the pain in her reaction and the feeling of loneliness that plagued most of the children at the orphanage. I wondered if they knew that a different world existed out there other than the one to which they were accustomed. The bond they shared with the volunteers and other workers at the facility was thus brought about by the idea that we shared a common fate.
Travelling back home I reflected on my work at the orphanage and the lessons I had learnt. Besides the different cultural experience through the exchange program, volunteering at the orphanage was the best I had ever had. Interacting with the children opened my eyes to a whole new perspective of life. The activities and duties I performed at the orphanage had helped better the lives of the orphans, and I was looking forward to another opportunity to do the same. I then understood the emphasis placed on passion when selecting where to volunteer. All the work required of a volunteer in an orphanage certainly needs motivation, something all the workers at the facility displayed. The matron in charge of the orphanage was very dedicated to her work, and it was evident that she was in it for personal reasons other than the fact that she was employed by the state. Such dedication is essential because of the challenges one faces in taking care of children in an orphanage.
The matron and all the workers were sad to let us go. I was hoping for a chance to offer recommendations, but it never came, though each of us was given time to highlight our experiences. Among the lessons I had learnt was appreciation for family and all the aspects associated with it. The orphans lacked support from their kin and only depended on that offered by the government and strangers in the form of volunteers. Therefore, their lives are mostly unstable and without the care and development that only a family can provide. The instability was partly caused by the lack of a permanent environment given that they meet new people after every few months from various backgrounds, all of whom taught them different things. After living in the facility for some time, a number of children would then be adopted again changing their environment. The ideal time for nurturing a child and molding them to conform to certain values and social behaviors is when they are still young. Therefore changing the environment in which they live constantly disrupts the learning process in their lives.
One of our roles as volunteers had been to help create an environment similar to that of a home so that they can develop fully functional lives in the future. I was glad to have been a part of their lives, though temporarily. I had enjoyed all the benefits of volunteering and planned to register as a permanent volunteer. Other places exist where I could offer my service, and I looked forward to the new experiences. As a parting note, each of us was accorded certificates of participation by the non-profit organization that sponsored us, one that I would use later when applying for a different volunteering program. Through my initial participation, I would automatically be granted my next volunteering opportunity if I wished to work with the same organization.