What an amazing, rollercoaster, eye-opening week!
I arrived on Thursday the 12th August after a mammoth 27 hour sleeper train ride, and was welcomed into the volunteer apartment. I honestly didn't know what to expect, so to find a spacious, homely apartment full of English, American and Dutch volunteers was a very pleasant surprise! I was lulled into a deep sleep by the sound of distant babies, and eagerly anticipated meeting the children the next day.
My first day involved a tour around the remaining three apartments, which are home to children from the age of just a few months, to three year olds. The majority of the children arrive at Starfish from other orphanages with health problems that need additional care and eventual surgery/medical treatment that the orphanges just can't handle. This includes condititions such as cleft pallet, spinabifida, club foot and heart problems to name just a few. The children are each assigned a nanny, who looks after day to day needs such as feeding, bathing and 'toilet duties', and volunteers are also encouraged to help in any way that it is needed. It was really quite touching to see just how positive the atmosphere was despite
there being some very ill children, with everyone focused on giving these babies the best start to life and lots of love.
That first evening we recieved some exciting news; the next day we were to get a new delivery of not one, not two, but six babies!! Of course, I was really excited, but mixed in was a great deal of trepidation. I am a man who up until that point had hardly ever held a baby for fear of dropping. And as for nappies, well, I struggle to fold a napkin, so you can just imagine the potential problems that this posed. However I was up for the challenge!
On arrival, very little was known about each child and their condition. They also yet to be given English names, which is the procedure at Starfish. Despite only being there for 48 hours, I was very honoured to be able to name David, a newborn baby boy with cleft pallet and an exposed bladder. A few days previously my uncle Dave had very sadly passed away back in the UK. It is an extremely difficult time for his close and extended familly, and it felt apt for his name to carry on with such a determined little boy.
It was was clear that each of the babies was very individual, and would need differing levels of attention and care. Ethan, David and Michelle had cleft pallets, Jane spinabifida, Celine was very undernourished and frail, and Morgan appeared fairly healthy. Myself and Sophie, an English volunteer, were assigned Michelle. Michelle is only a few months old, and has a cleft pallet. This means that she has some difficulty feeding independently, and will need an operation to correct it.
For the first few weeks of their Starfish lives, the babies live in the volunteer apartment, where they can recieve care 24-7 attention. We settled into a rountine of feeding, sleeping and changing.....and so did the babies! There were, and will be, ups and downs, and we have our fingers crossed for David and Celine, who are currently in hospital suffering from infections.
I think that I speak for myself and Sophie when I say that Michelle has stolen our hearts. Over the following days, nappies were changed like a formula one pitstop, bottles of milk were drunk like Gazza on a night on the town and we completed many laps of the living room with her cradled in my arms. Even though I looked after her for just a week, to see her immediately start to put on weight, start to smile and even begin to laugh was so special. And if this makes me a softie, well, guilty as charged! I anticipate a fierce battle with Sophie for custody!
However what became very clear as I prepared to say goodbye was that the lives of these babies would be much, much bleaker without the love and determination of Amanda, nannies and volunteers at Starfish. Amanda is a remarkable lady, who has devoted the last 5 years of her life entirely to the babies. It is a huge operation to manage new babies, staff, adoptions, deliveries, corresponence and everything else that comes with her role.
Saying goodbye to the six babies, my little friend James in flat 104 and the other children and volunteers was very emotional. I wasnt expecting to meet such inspirational people and for the experience to have such a profound effect on me, and I spent the overnight sleeper train to Shanghai contemplating what a special place Starfish is and what the future will hold for James, Michelle and all the others.
I would also like to say a massive thanks to everyone at Randlay Primary School who helped us raise 500 pounds as a donation to Starfish. I experienced just how vital these donations are to a place like Starfish, and I hope that we can continue our links in the future.
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