We spent a full day at New Life Homes today. First thing, I was in with the toddlers. My impression was that they were very quiet. They were all sat at high tables on chairs that were too big for them – their feet didn’t reach the floor. There was not much interaction between the staff and the children. The children sit and wait around for the next activity for long periods. In England they would have got fed up and wandered off or made some noise. It was eerily quiet.
After snack we took them out to a covered area with a concrete floor and shelving at one end filled with lots of broken plastic babies activity centres. I wasn’t sure why these were here as a) they had no play value and b) the children ignored them. There was a nice large sand area with a swing, slide and roundabout. Staff are concerned that the children will get dirty of they play in the sand. The play equipment is all made of metal – in the midday sun, these are very hot to the touch, especially on a child’s bare leg. Staff placed the children down on the concrete floor and sat on the benches round the side of the shelter, ignoring them.
After toddlers, I joined babies staff for feeding time. Fortunately there were 5 visitors helping the 3 staff to deal with the 22 babies. The larger ones were given a substantial bowl of solids (rice and beans), followed by a full cup of milk. These are well fed babies. About 10 of them are strapped into bouncy chairs waiting for their milk – in silence, the others lie quietly on mats. We fed a few each then played with them, singing and holding them. The staff mainly sat and watched us.
After lunch I joined the special needs girls downstairs. I gave them their new musical instruments and we had a noisy singing time. Ashley, one of the girls, grabbed me by the hand and pulled me outside where 3 of the children had a great time playing in the sand, on the roundabout and the slide. We came in for tea and I sat at the table as the 4 of them consumed massive bowls of rice and beans. After they had finished, I cleared away while they disappeared for a shower. I was discovered by the staff, sweeping the floor, which caused much consternation, mainly I think because I was a man and also white. It was not my role to clean up.
A white worker shared today that she had been told by a black colleague that it would not be a good idea for her, as a white person, to visit her home in the slum because word would get around about the visit and her home would be burgled by people looking for the wealth which they assumed would have been left as a gift.