health care volunteer - "a day in the life"

No two days are ever the same in Emmanuel.  It's difficult to put into words how a day actually pans out.  The following is one of my days.

On the journey up to Emmanuel I always kept an eager eye out for any carers walking to work and would ask the driver to stop and give them a lift.  On this particular morning we picked up 3 carers and one of the carers’ 2 children.  We dropped the children off at nursery and they skipped very independently the 200 yards on their own to the nursery – I wanted to make sure they got there ok as they were only aged 3 and 4 but whilst I was watching we whizzed away in the van ...

I arrive at Emmanuel by 8am to be welcomed at the gates by Nellie with the key to unlock the gate and a big hug to set me up for the day.  She always asks how my evening went and we have a little chat.  I am quickly surrounded by 10 children wanting me to do 'round and round the garden' on their hands – they don't forget anything from the previous day.  It's a chilly morning and I opt for playing trains and running around the courtyard with the children to keep warm.  As each child arrives at the Centre they then join the train and there is much giggling.  As each carer arrives for their day at work I get a hug and I am presented by Nellie with a tray with a lace cloth with a cup of coffee on it – separate milk and sugar pots.  Despite my protests that a mug would be fine Nellie always refused - “you must have the tray”.  As a volunteer I was treated as a guest of honour which was very humbling. 

I go into the nursery with Pumesa (teacher) and the children get their chairs from the pile and sit down.  This is all part of their daily routine and the children are then prompted by Pumesa to say ‘Good morning teacher’.  Pumesa has a difficult job in keeping 26 children focused but she somehow manages – her story telling skills are wonderful and she can turn a tiger’s tale of not wanting to wash into something very special.  Pumesa has to leave the nursery to help sort out porridge and I am then left with lots of eyes looking towards me.  I opt for another story but within minutes I have chaos and don’t have the same ability as Pumesa to gain control!  As the children are so active I then capitalise on this and we do some nursery rhymes which gets me and them back on track.  Pumesa comes back to the nursery and colouring is the next activity for the day.  There is only one colouring book and I am asked to photocopy 2 different pictures 26 times each.  In normal western world this is a simple and quick task – not at Emmanuel.  The photocopier is on a ‘go slow’ and really needs written notice that I want to print more than 2 or 3 pages!  The paper gets jammed and then the machine gets hot – the pages trickle out but the whole process takes half an hour – I reassure Pumesa that I am still on task and she smiles.  The children are so excited when they eventually are given their sheet to colour and they sit on the floor and we hand out pencils and encourage them to share colours.  Their fine motor skills are great and some children are budding artists – they carefully stick to the picture and their use of colour is wonderful.  I encourage all the children to put their names at the top of the page and they are delighted when my camera comes out ...

After that activity I am then ready to go out with the carers for their daily visits in the community.

I am encouraged to wear a cap as the sun is shining today and Sarah (carer) is told by Estolene not to take me too far.  I laugh and say I am fine but Sarah and Roseline want to take care of me.  We start strolling down the road in no hurry and enjoy the chat along the way.  I always ask who we are visiting but rarely do we see the person whom we have just spoken about.  The first person is a lady who has the tiniest baby – only weeks old.  The lady concealed her pregnancy from Sarah as she was HIV positive and did not want to take the medication to prevent her daughter from being HIV.  The baby was asleep in the middle of the bed and Sarah asked the lady how she was doing.  The lady was pleased to say that the baby is not HIV positive.  I would have liked to have a conversation about why the lady felt unable to take the medication but it was not appropriate.  I was asked by the lady to look at the rash on the baby’s face.  It was dry skin and I told the lady that I had just bought some cream which was at Emmanuel.  Sarah promised to drop some off later that day and the lady then looked out a pot for Sarah to put it in.  We then went to visit a lady who is HIV but who also has cancer.  We arrived at the house and I was quickly welcomed into the home by the lady.  Roseline said the lady was like a mum to her, a phrase I often heard -  this reflected the wonderful relationship the carers have with their service users.  In the UK we would say this is unprofessional and that people were crossing in boundaries – it is totally different in PE. 

On the way back to Emmanuel we saw a cow head-butt a toddler – fortunately the child bounced and the mother was there immediately.  It resulted in the child just being bruised and crying – the cow had a rock thrown at it and ran off.  The carers stated that children always tease the cows and they are getting their own back!  Walking through the township I am greeted with hello and morning by everyone. 

By the time we get back to Emmanuel it is nearly time for the OVCs (orphans and vulnerable children) to have their meal and as the kitchen is short staffed today I offer to help serve dinner.  Roseline shows me how much to put in each pot but my portion control is not as good as hers and my pots are routinely trimmed down with the portion size!  Each pot is counted and a note is made of how many children visit every day for the meal.  Today was tuna pasta – it smelled great but I was devastated when it ran out and there were still children left to eat – they went without.

It was then time to start some work with the OVCs.  I had formed a group of about 12 girls who religiously turned up to be entertained!  As the group got to know me I started to introduce different themes into the sessions to develop their confidence.  We had started the sessions with simple colouring, reading stories, clapping games but today I was going to introduce the parachute.  The girls were very excited but also felt anxious about holding it!  Being in PE it was a very windy day and ideal for such an activity!  We all held the parachute and it flew up in the air – the girls screamed with excitement.  We then hid under it, wrapped ourselves in it and then put feathers on it to blow to one another.  It was such a magical moment to see children enjoying themselves with such a simple piece of material. 

Before I knew it the Calabash minibus was waiting at the gate and another day had gone by.  All the people in the office had to hug me every night before I went – it always took at least 10 minutes to leave Emmanuel.  The girls ran to the bus with me desperately asking if I would be there the next day – of course I would I reassured them and then we all waved goodbye.

Lots of emotions in one day – such nurturing with the nursery children; sadness with the situations that people live in within the community; grief at not having enough food for the children at meal time and wonderment with the OVCs.  I then wonder why I a little tired at night!  I am all too ready to face the next day and plan the activities in my mind on the way home – whether the day will pan out like I plan I don’t know and I don’t care as long as I can be of some help in some way.

Contributor: Lynn
Created: 22/08/2011

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