Today was the hardest day during my entire trip to Africa. I have actually had a hard time blogging about the whole trip because everything culminated in the experiences I had at the Beacon House Orphanage. This orphanage is privately owned and run by an American woman. She takes children with disabilities and illnesses that other orphanages will not. Several of her children are HIV positive and several have hepatitis, among other ranges of problems. We arrived at a gorgeous house and walked up onto the side porch, where at least 10 girls were playing with barbies. This was something I had not seen yet and the american influence was very clear!
When we asked how we could help, we were asked to help entertain the younger children who were watching a movie inside. The director of Beacon House had other visitors and we were left with the children until she could finish her business.
These children were the cleanest we had seen yet. They swarmed us, climbing on our legs and arms. We gladly surrendered our shoes and found ourselves sitting on the floor with piles of children in our laps. I had several girls braiding my hair while 3 more fought to sit in my lap and another paraded in my shoes. I looked around the room and everyone else had their own little group to entertain. We were all having a great time playing in the clean, cool house.
Then, I turned around to see a baby crawling towards me. He came out of nowhere and crawled right into my lap. Well that is where he would stay for the rest of our visit. All the other children were spilling toys while I made sure the baby didn't eat any of them. This little guy was mouthing everything and needed constant attention in the mess of activities. I had not seen him smile until I turned him to face me. He studied my face for a moment, then touching my chin, started to laugh. Up until now, all babies had been terrified of me and this was a nice change!
Once the director was finished with her business, she took us to a classroom to talk. She carried the baby with us, whose name I still did not know. She handed him off to Meredith and started to tell us her story. Of course, I don't remember everything the director said, but I remember exactly what he was doing the whole time. Getting squirmy, Meredith was instructed to put him on the floor. The baby immediately went for a piece of crayon but I was faster! I let him explore for a minute and then put my hands down to see if he wanted to be held. He crawled straight to me and climbed into my lap. As I was rocking him to sleep, the director told us about many of the village customs. Many villages consider twins to be evil and require a ritualized killing. The twins are placed in a tent with heavy incense, so thick they choke on the smoke. If one infant survives, it will be drowned. Many villages also consider the 3rd born in every family to be evil and therefore these babies are killed at birth. In addition, there are not many children with physical disabilities or birth defects in the villages because they are killed at birth. These defects are seen as evil. In many cases the doctor or midwife will drown the baby in a bucket of water just after being born. In other cases, mothers will leave the children by the river. The myth is that these "spirit children" turn into snakes, but we know what actually happens.
The baby's story was different. This 1 year old child, now sleeping in my arms, was not born with a physical disability or disorder. His mother gave him to the Osu Orphanage where he was sexually abused at the age of 6 months. The women at the Osu Orphanage tried to say that a 5 year old was responsible. However the hole suggested otherwise. They then tried to blame it on the Western volunteers. However, they were only protecting one of their own.
Fortunately the baby left that government run orphanage and is in a much better one now. However, his mother is still alive but doesn't want him after he was abused. It was explained to us that he may never be accepted by his family but he would be difficult to adopt out because his family is still alive.
Usually babies in orphanages go to Ghanaians to adopt, but they will not want him. He is tainted according to their culture. This baby will carry the trauma for the rest of his life although he may have been too young to remember it happen. A sound, a touch, or a word may one day trigger these feelings to resurface and he needs to be with a family that is willing and able to handle it appropriately.
Apparently rape is a common occurrence in villages. The director informed us that 4 out of 5 of her orphan girls around 8 yrs old have been raped and are able to explicitly describe the experience. Girls are customarily raped between the ages of 7-9 years while on their way to fetch water for their family. Girls are instructed to travel in groups or take a boy with them. Obviously, this does not always protect them. On the other hand, sodomy is not so common. Homosexuality is a huge taboo in Ghana and conversation on the topic is often forbidden as well. Therefore, the baby's rape carries much more taboo weight than the girls'.
It was truly horrifying to me to hear these stories. I think it was even worse to have this precious, gorgeous child peacefully asleep in my arms. My arms were aching under his weight, but I only held on tighter. He deserves all the love the world can give him after everything he has been through in his life already.
As we left, I handed the child to the director, and felt his hand gripping my shoulder and then his fingers trailing my arm as he let go. It was heartbreaking. I was at the orphanage for about 2 hours and I had fallen in love with this amazing little boy. I refused to take a picture with him because I knew he and his story would haunt me, and I did not want to obsess . . .its been hard.
This afternoon we went to the beach where we ate lunch, played on the rocks and collected shells with Eric and Felicia Annan's daughter Euphralia. We then went back to the Tadakwashi market where I bought jewelry, a djembe drum, and souvenirs/presents for friends at home. The Tadakwashi market is a bit less than the Macola Market and helped me refine my bartering skills. However, the baby was constantly on my mind.