Dear Friends & Supporters,
There is nothing that compares to the feeling of accomplishment we had after returning from Rwanda for G.O.T. Orphans first official trip as an established non-profit organization.
We came back from Rwanda with a new perspective on life, a gratitude for what we have and a deeper understanding of the important things in life.
We believe that we left behind skills, knowledge, and a new perspective of hope for the people working with these disabled children.
Mother Teresa’s Home of Hope
We spent our mornings at Mother Teresa’s Home of Hope, where younger children flocked to be played with and held by our G.O.T. Orphans’ team members. They gave them the attention they craved by playing with them and simply holding and embracing them.
The occupational therapists in the group, Tara McCormick and Jessica Kenney, spent their time working with the disabled orphans. Here, many of the staff gathered in one room to give these children the extra care they needed.
When we entered the room, most of the children were lying on a mat as the staff shuffled around either feeding them, changing them, or holding them. The room was empty, no toys in sight.
The staff was initially apprehensive to our visit, but as we opened our bins full of therapy equipment and showed them how they can interact with each of these special children their hearts opened up to the idea.
They began to ask us questions about the materials and equipment. They were curious about how to work with specific children and what they can do to best help them. We were able to teach them the Wilbarger Deep Pressure and Brushing Protocol, which helped decrease a lot of tight tone these children had in their muscles.
They saw how this program instantly relaxed these children’s bodies. We showed them how they can play with children who have such limited mobility; teaching them how to hold them and position them for play, eating, and muscle development.
We worked on feeding with some of the children who often aspirated and had difficulty swallowing. We taught them how to use adaptive feeding utensils to help some of the children become more independent with self-feeding.
It was a remarkable feeling of accomplishment when we saw the sisters at this orphanage smiling and laughing with the children and teaching each other staff some of the therapeutic methods, as they now had a greater sense of how to interact with these children.
They were thankful to us for teaching them how to help these children, as they wanted what was best for all of them. We were so thankful for their open hearts and for the unconditional love they had for the orphans.
We spent most of our time at Gahanga Orphanage, which accommodated 30 disabled orphans of varying ages and was run by a sisterhood of nuns.
The nuns unconditionally loved and cared for the children as if they were their very own. These sisters were in charge of everything in the orphanage; from gardening and farming for all the food they ate, to cooking, cleaning, ground maintenance, and caring for 30 disabled orphans.
They welcomed us from the start with open arms, dancing and singing to us with the children. Their eyes lit up when we were teaching them therapy techniques and when we opened our bins full of therapy materials, equipment, arts and craft supplies, therapeutic toys, etc.
We primarily provided occupational therapy to the children we saw in their natural environment. When they were eating, we helped teach proper feeding strategies and use of adaptive feeding materials.
We taught the sisters how to use therapeutic toys and games to improve their cognitive development. We taught them sensory strategies to improve the children’s overall ability to process daily sensory stimuli.
In addition to the therapists, we had four builders on our team who constructed an entire swing structure with three different therapeutic swings for hanging on the structure. We showed the sisters how to use these swings to encourage development in the children, and to provide them with movement they’ve never felt before.
We had Rwandan volunteers build a therapeutic adjustable height table, which allowed all the children to eat together in an upright position from their wheelchairs rather than eating throughout the facility in either their wheelchair or on the floor. The table will allow for adjusting the height so that the children had a better chance of learning how to self-feed.
Almost all of them (30) were spoon fed one at a time. The other team members played with the children. They blew bubbles, which the children marveled at. They adapted fine and gross motor activities to meet the needs of the physically disabled children, such as arts, crafts, and bowling.
In addition, we all simply held and talked to the children who don’t often get one-on-one attention due to the amount of work the sisters have to do throughout the day just to manage the orphanage.
Amongst all of the work, we were able to take a short break with the sisters one day. As we shared Twizzlers and sesame sticks, we talked about the children at the orphanage and their passion for working with them. They told us that most disabled orphans in Rwanda get thrown in a room and shunned from society for being different and “useless”. They are sometimes hidden away by their very own families with food thrown into their room. Some children get left in bushes waiting for someone else to find them.
Of course, there are many reasons children become orphaned. Some are too poor to care for their child who has a disability that requires costly medical attention, so they hand them over to an orphanage thinking they would have a better life there. These sisters are saints for doing what they do. We feel fortunate to have taught them some methods and techniques to help them care for these children the way they have always wished they could.
Rwandan Feeding Program
Poverty is an epidemic and we saw many hungry children. We volunteered at a feeding program for street boys of all ages who lined up to get mugs of porridge, a thick, white substance made of maize, water and sugar. When they saw us coming they all flocked over to us anxious to tell us their stories and to be held.
Young boys, maybe only 4 and 5-years old grasped our hands and didn’t let go for hours. Some boys spoke English and wanted to tell us stories about their lives and how they wanted to be sponsored to go to school. They all gathered in a yard and partook in a celebration.
Celebration you ask? They are poor, homeless, and hungry, yet this porridge, served 1-2 times most days, is definitely a means for them to rejoice. We joined them in a circle of celebration with singing, dancing, and comedic entertainment. Then they broke out to play with each other; dancing, drawing, and sports. At the end, they joined to give thanks and pray.
It was incredible experience to be part of and quite a lesson on life. Our everyday stresses are mundane in comparison to what these children in Africa face with no place to call home, yet they are so grateful.
Thanks to all of you who supported our trip. With your help we were able to provide over a week’s worth of therapeutic education to over 35 orphanage staff.
We were also able to purchase over 11 large bins of therapy equipment, toys and supplies for two different orphanages. We were able to purchase materials for building three different therapeutic swings along with the swing structure.
Unbeknown to us, our translators were so inspired by the service we provided, they are planning to come to the U.S. to further their education by receiving an occupational therapy degree. They hope to take these skills back to Rwanda to continue the work we have started.