Posted by: nicholemm | November 14, 2013

New Volunteer Experience at Westhaven

Front GateThe moment I stepped passed the metal gates into Westhaven is a moment I will never forget. We were greeted by children of all sizes and ages running up to us with pure joy in their faces. Before arriving to Westhaven I can’t honestly say what I had expected to see. I knew that the children were disabled but no amount of prior information could prepare your heart to witness the misshaped tiny bodies lying in a sheet less bed with the occasional fly landing on their little faces with no way to make it go away.

I remember guardedly walking across the grounds with children pulling and tugging at me. I think of myself of a person with a caring heart but I distinctly remember commenting to God that there were things that I could do and things that I could not. When I look back on my time at the orphanage I am so thankful that He didn’t listen to me because many of my experiences were completely out of my comfort zone. I worked alongside Ms. Young, the school teacher, and learned that the children know so much more than I ever would have believed. I was constantly amazed by them. Joining them in school also allowed me to learn how they communicate with each other. Many of the children do not speak but they find their own ways to communicate.

By the end of my time at the orphanage I had helped feed, bathe and dress children, which would seem like non-eventful tasks. But no job at the orphanage is without its challenges. Let’s just say the food choices for the average Jamaican are a little different than of a typical American. Lunch always included rice and was combined with some sort of fish or meat There milk was had a yellowish tint because it was goats milk. Bathing the babies was difficult. They used a tub of iced cold water with a bar of soap. The clothes that the children wore had to be one of the biggest eye openers for me. There were 2 sides to a cottage and each side had a large closet. The clothes are shared among all those children. One morning while dressing a little boy I pulled up his shorts and they literally fell apart in my hands. My first thought was how sad that they don’t have better quality clothes but after talking to some of the workers I realized that they are just a society that does not waste what they have. They wear their clothes until they are worn out – what a concept!! Ms. Curry, one of the workers taught me so much about the struggles of life on the outside the gates of Westhaven. It was an honor to work alongside these remarkable women.

My greatest experience was sharing in the lives of 2 young girls there. Njoki is in her early 20s and has Down’s Syndrome. She taught me so much about the orphanage. I realized what an important role each of the children play in getting things accomplished. One day after lunch Njoki was told to go feed Mooni. She was handed 2 bottles filled with a thick yellow substance. She grabbed my hand and summoned me to go with her. As we walked into one of the cottages I saw a girl that must have been in her late teens lying in a bed. Njoki proceeded to grab a sweater from the closet to use for a bib and draped it across Mooni’s chest. She proceeded to feed Mooni the 2 bottles in a way that reminded me of a small child being responsible for a younger sibling when she wasnt quite ready to do so. I found out later that Mooni won’t take her bottle from anyone except Njoki. The other girl is named Kerryann. Kerryann taught me more than what words alone can articulate. She is also 23 years old and has Spinal Bifida. She is confined to a wheel chair that reclines because her spine cannot support her body. I spent the majority of my time with Kerryann. I pushed her from one end of the grounds to the other singing songs. The most moving was when she sang the song Open the eyes of my heart Lord.

There are moments in your life where you feel a shift and that was definitely one for me. Since returning home I have had countless times where I start to get upset about something or feel that I have been wronged and I go to that particular moment. I think about all that I have a healthy family a warm home and countless other luxuries that many times I feel that I am unworthy of. But when I picture sweet Kerryann’s face with her eyes looking up toward Heaven and singing those words I am so humbled. She has every reason to feel bitter and betrayed and yet she chooses to praise God. On the last day Kerryann struggled with my leaving. It was difficult to hold myself together but I knew that I had to be strong for her.

As we boarded the van to leave the orphanage they had to lock the gates because one of the girls was crying and trying to go with us. I sat and stared out the window as Njoki stood beside Kerryann. I made them promise to take care of each other. As we drove away I finally let loose of all the emotions that I had felt since we had arrived. I cried and cried. When I pulled myself together enough to talk I told my husband that I wasn’t crying for the children. I knew that they were loved and that they are taken care of there. Life at Westhaven is all they have ever known and they will be okay. I was crying for myself. I was crying because I was leaving a life of such simplicity. All the children asked of us was to give them love. You could bring toys and clothes but all they really wanted was our love and our time. I know that the people at Westhaven are so grateful for the work that we do for them but it is what they offer us that is priceless.

By: Linda Wanless


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