My (Emma B) service assignment for the second six weeks of SST is at Vivre Ensemble – La Pouponnière de Mbour. La Pouponnière is an orphanage. The main purpose of the orphanage is to serve infants through three year olds. The ultimate goal is to reunite the children with their families once time has allowed the families’ economic situations to improve. The pouponnière is located on the southern edge of Mbour, inside a colorfully decorated wall that keeps the children safe.
A day in the life: Emma B.
During my first week, I worked in the neonatal room. The neonatal room contains twenty six cribs for twenty six infants through 12 month olds. Every day, I would enter the complex and wash my hands before signing into the volunteer logbook. The time varied, depending on my shift but often I entered the neonatal room at 10 am. That was just in time for the babies to begin coming out of their cribs.
The older babies crawl around the room while workers sit nearby, keeping a careful eye on both the infants and those that can crawl. Eventually, the kitchen sends in the baby food and bottles full of formula. The workers begin feeding the older babies with spoons and bowls. Then attention turns to the infants. Each one receives a bottle before the diaper changing begins. Caregivers take the babies to sinks in the back of the room, give the babies a quick bath and then a fresh diaper. Finally, the babies return to their cribs for the first nap of the day. Throughout the day, different workers and volunteers come into the room and take one or two babies outside to get some fresh air.
Working in the orphanage has been both joyful and challenging. Hearing giggling babies and toddlers playing will always brighten my day. However, it has been challenging to see the burnout of the workers and the small ratio of workers to children. Often there are only two or three workers and one volunteer for over twenty children in a room. This leads to a lack of individual attention that these children crave. All we can do as volunteers is attempt to show care and affection for the children and take a little bit off of the shoulders of the workers. This realization has been challenging, but necessary.
A day in the life: Emma Z.
I (Emma Z) am also working at Vivre Ensemble- La Pouponniere de M’Bour for my service placement. I work with the “Petit Section” (1-2 yr olds) and the “Grand Section” (2-3 yr olds).
My first week I worked in the “Grand section” with the 2-3 year olds. I would usually come to work at around 10 am and the kids would have already eaten breakfast. They would be outside playing in the large Gazebo or on the playground in the middle of the complex. These kids love to play with toys as well as hang on the “Toubabs”. Every time I come to work, the toddlers try to sit on me, stand next to me, or ask to get picked up. The first few days I let kids sit on my lap and I picked them up. Then I realized that if I give one child the chance, all the other children want to be picked up as well.
Towards the end of my shift, at around 1 pm, the children get fed. Then caregivers clean the children before putting them down for a nap. Sometimes to make sure the children don’t make a mess we help feed them, but other times they are capable of doing it on their own.
The “petit section” has been a slightly different experience. The kids were sweet and calm when I first met them. We take them out to the gazebo to play, and then they start running away. The 1-2 year olds can also be challenging but are more curious and like to just sit and look at what is going on around them.
Working with these kids has been very hard for me. I get physically and emotionally drained very quickly. The kids do not like to listen to the volunteers, so they will just run away and laugh when they run away and you try to get them to come back. The children cry a decent amount, knowing that if they cry they are more likely to get attention. They also act out in other ways that may be developmentally appropriate but it still feels frustrating at times.
Photos are not allowed in the pouponnière. Signs posted around the campus make this clear and note that “children are not tourist attractions.” Please feel free to visit the organization’s website to learn more about the organization.