Whenever I’ve had a bad day, or a frustrating moment, or just really missed home, I’ve gone straight to Open Arms Infant Care Home and immediately felt better. You would not necessarily think that an African orphanage is a place to go to be cheered up. It conjures up images of pain, sickness, protruding ribs, flies on mouths, and hollow, haunting eyes.
Open Arms couldn’t be more different. Open Arms is a bright, cheerful place full of healthy happy babies, attentive and loving caregivers (‘mothers’), excellent health care, and even a small paddling pool.
In Malawi, orphans are classified as either single or double. Single orphans have lost one parent (usually their mother) and a double has lost both parents. Often, Malawian family units are so tight that the extended family will care for orphaned children, but many don’t have the resources to care for the child in their critical first few years. That’s where Open Arms comes in.
Open Arms cares for infants until they are two or three years old, when most of them return home to their father, aunt, uncle, grandmother, or other guardian. Often these guardians have visited the children during their time at Open Arms so that they have already formed a bond.
At the infant care home, each ‘mother’ cares for about five children and there is a registered nurse who acts as the matron. The children who can’t go home (either their family can’t or won’t care for them or they have been abandoned) move on to Harrogate House, which is located on the same property as the infant care home, where they attend preschool.
Once they have outgrown Harrogate House, the children will move to one of the foster homes in Blantyre. In these foster homes, 4 to 6 children live together in a house with a designated ‘mother’. They attend school and live life in a family unit.
Open Arms welcomed me as a volunteer when we first arrived and I was without a job. Going to visit those sweet children and dedicated caring staff kept me sane when I was feeling bored or homesick. Since then I visit about once a week and get that little shot of happiness that only a giggling happy baby can give you. Open Arms might be my favorite place in all of Malawi and I was so fortunate to find one of those amazing volunteer opportunities where I always feel that I get more than I give.
As many of you know, times are tough here in Malawi. They are certainly tough everywhere, but especially here where the cost of living has gone up an estimated 51% in the past four months. These changes have seriously affected Open Arms and the care they are able to give.
If you are looking for an alternative gift this Christmas, consider making a donation to Open Arms. Even a small gift can make a huge difference.
Sibusiso – $5 a jar – a peanut-based protein supplement provides a nutritional boost for children who arrive malnourished or who suffer from chronic illness.
Formula Milk – $6 – This will provide all the nutrients a baby needs for one week. The youngest baby ever admitted to Open Arms was only 12 hours old.
Weekly Physical Therapy – $7 per visit – Children such as Edina, who was born with Cerebral Palsy, need regular physiotherapy to make progress and maintain mobility.
Malaria Instant Test Kit – $22 for 10 – In Mangochi, where medical services are less developed, yet Malaria is more frequent, instant test kits help the Matron to catch instances of Malaria early.
School Fees for One Year – $190 – Our Foster Houses provide a home for children with no viable family. Education is provided through private schools to give them the best opportunities for the future.
Open Arms is superbly run and acts as a model for other orphanages in Malawi. Your gift will be used effectively and efficiently and will directly help children like these:
When Wyson arrived, he was so malnourished he screamed when fed. Today, a year later, he is healthy, happy, and recently took his first steps.
Pemphero’s mother died in childbirth and her father was unable to cope with a newborn and Open Arms welcomed her in August 2010. Her father and grandmothers visit her often and she will go home when they are able to care for her. She is a favorite with the older children who call her “Lo Lo Lo.”
Charlie lived at Open Arms for over two years and now lives with his grandmother. He has been reunited with his older siblings and has adjusted well to his new life in the village. Open Arms continues to support Charlie as they have a sponsor who regularly helps his grandmother with the costs of supporting four children.
Isaac was found abandoned and immediately brought to Open Arms. While he struggled to put on weight at first, he is now healthy and rarely stops smiling or giggling. He loves to be held.
To learn more about Open Arms, visit their website: http://www.openarmsmalawi.org/