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Orphanage Report 2008

Report on Visit to St Joseph’s Orphanage in Jirapa Uwr, Ghana

By Glenda Singlehurst

Sally and Dominic at the orphanage.On 21st of October 2008 myself and five other members of the FREED UK Charity group Ann Hicks, Dominic Hoko, Sally Ghazali, Jonathon and Joseph Devitt travelled from Nandom to Jirapa to visit the St Josephs’ Orphanage.

Sister Lydia the manager of the Orphanage was there to greet us on arrival as we went in we could see straightaway that the children were relaxed, playful, and appeared very contented. We discussed the children’s welfare, enquiring whether they had received their inoculations. We were delighted to hear that indeed they had received their inoculations, and that they were now under the care of the hospital Paediatrician.

Kitchen at the orphanage.Sadly as we entered the building the environment was dark and dismal. Jonathon and Joseph were introduced to sister Lydia, who was happy to hear that they would be staying on there for a further 2 months, to assist with the children, and to do whatever was needed to be done .Together with sister Lydia, we decided to improve the inside of the Orphanage by painting the dining room, and corridors. Sister Lydia was left to choose the colours she wanted. The time spent decorating by both Jonathon Joseph would vastly improve the environment for both children and staff.

Sister Lydia expressed the need for milk, Formula 1 and 2 for the children. This would be taken care of by our Orphanage group funds, along with nappies and all other requirements highlighted during assessments of stock.

During our last visit in 2007 we were very distraught by the conditions in which the children were in, we came away with bright ideas of raising enough funds to erect an Orphanage in the grounds of the Hospital, but this would be a very big task to undertake.  The present Orphanage building structure is strong and soundly built, improvement of the current building for the children is a more realistic way forward, and it was decided the present building would be made more habitable by decorating.

Another idea myself and Gai McKenzie feel is worth being put forward is the possibility of buying new cots and bed linen. Also we feel an area in the surrounding grounds could be developed as a play area for the children to develop further their interpersonal play skills.

We would like to thank Ruth Hepworth for the considerable amount of funds she raised which has been utilised for buying the children’s formula milk.

Orphanage Report 2008

Report on Visit to St Joseph’s Orphanage in Jirapa Uwr, Ghana

Jonathon and Joseph on arrival at Jirapa.By Joseph Devitt (on right in picture)

On the day the team left us in Jirapa we spent little time unpacking in our room, and instead headed straight over to the orphanage. We met with Sr. Lydia again and spoke briefly about what we could do for her and the orphanage over the next two months. We were told to go and get 'settled in' and that tomorrow we should start work. We did as we were told!

The next day we went over to the orphanage early and took with us the box of toys salvaged from Ko A school, and a bag full of baby clothes. We handed them over to Sr. Lydia who seemed very grateful and immediately handed out some plastic balls to some of the children who were delighted with them! For about an hour we played with the children who as you all know, crave and need so much attention.

Our play was put to an end by Sr Lydia who kindly reminded us that we were here to ''work not just play!'' and so we took the short journey to the paint shop and bought ten tins of white paint. We started painting straight away in the main bedroom and had it finished by lunch time, at which point we were told to ''go and rest and not to come back until tomorrow.''

Over the next week we split our time between playing with the children, and painting. We bought blue paint near the end of our first week and began painting and finishing the bedrooms and some of the corridor. We had the Thursday of this week off to visit Wa properly and hunt out the formula milk.

A young child in the orphanage uniform looking quite happy.By the end of our second week we had completed painting all of the corridor, both bedrooms, the office, and dining room white, but still had to complete the fresh new look with the blue paint! Sr Lydia took us to Wa for the second time on Wednesday to buy the formula milk and some more paint. After running many an errand for numerous other people and stopping to get out and push-start the van a couple of times, we were finally on our way to get the milk. It took no time at all to count out how much we wanted, but it  then took an absolute age for Sr. Lydia to negotiate a price! We were then setting off yet again to run some more errands before visiting the convent HQ and being treated to a couple of Star and many a hilarious story by the sisters there.

We  thought our trip was over when suddenly Sr Lydia surprised us yet again by stopping outside a very popular restaurant and treating us to jollof and chicken! We headed back to Jirapa after that (after another push-start), Sr Lydia's van acting as a tro-tro all the way!

Although we were told to have the next day off by Sister, really, what is there to do in Jirapa!?

Over the next week we were well on the way to finishing painting everything, but unfortunately I took ill this week which slowed us down somewhat with me having to go back to the guesthouse and sleep at lunchtime most days leaving Jonathon to it!

Jonathon finished the painting by himself as I was treated for malaria but I did manage to come in to paint the last door frame a few days later!

The orphanage group photograph.With the painting finished and my health recovering, we could spend more time playing with the children. We took in an IPod and speakers one day which had the children mesmerized at first and then up and dancing! We also went in to take photos one afternoon for Sister Lydia. The children were dressed in their best outfits and looked so cute (see photo right) as we tried and tried to take a good photo or two, so we can send them back to Sister.

The beginning of our last week in Jirapa saw us meet with the whole orphanage team and Sister Lydia for a drink as a kind of staff night out/goodbye drink! It was a great night where we got to know everyone that much better, and were thanked continuously for the job we'd done. Sister Lydia said prayers both in English and Dagaare for us, and gave a very emotional speech thanking us for travelling all the way out to Jirapa, which was then followed by another lady singing a catholic hymn to also thank us. It was the most humbling moment of my life, and we felt compelled to say something back in thanks to them for having us, but no words could ever possibly explain the amount of gratitude and awe I/we felt in that moment, so instead Jonathon and I went back to our room to put on our matching Ghanaian shirts which Sr Lydia had bought for us previously that week (we knew this would be a crowd pleaser) and indeed as we entered we were welcomed by shouts and cheers of approval!

Children in the dining area having a meal.The remainder of that week we spent the mornings in the orphanage playing with the children some more and the evenings having a drink at the convent (we found that playing with the children for even one hour was a lot more tiring than painting for a whole day, and well deserving of a drink)!

We left Jirapa a week before we were due to fly home, having done what we set out to do in painting the orphanage and buying the formula milk whilst having a fantastic time along the way and hopefully brightening the lives a little for the children at St. Josephs!

We visited Luke in Kumasi before heading to Cape Coast and Kakum, and then spending time in Accra before flying home!

I'm sure I speak for both of us when I say thank you to all of you who made us feel so welcome whilst with the group in Nandom and for showing us the ropes! It was a truly wonderful experience and one that I am sure I will want to repeat again! We both send our apologies for our absence at this meeting, but hope to see you all again very soon!

Possible Targets for the future:

Sister Lydia wishes to build a playground on the side of the orphanage by putting a fence around the wasteland outside of the northern gate. This is so the children can see the busy main street and watch the school which is opposite, so to get a taste for life outside the orphanage walls. Although little needs doing to achieve this, fencing as we found out is very expensive and further manpower to erect it would also add to the cost.

Although much happier than before, the children still desperately need stimulating and something to do! With Jonathon and I now gone, the only time I can see the children having any kind of stimulative play or even attention is either when Sister Lydia has a spare moment (she is very good with the children but rarely has time to spend any time with them) although the time she does give to the children is well received as the children simply adore her. Also Mika, a Japanese lady studying nutrition visits the orphanage every Friday for about two hours. Due to her being half way through her two years of time in Jirapa, she can communicate quite well with the children and so can organise something more constructive than utter chaos which is all Jonathon and I ever seemed to achieve, albeit this chaos was much loved by the children!

Children playing with water outside.There is a desperate need for educated staff in the orphanage, although it could be unfair of me to say this (as we never got a clear cut idea of how educated or not the staff were) however the impression we got as Sr. Lydia left anyone else in charge was that she herself was genuinely worried about what she would return to. In fact at one point she pleaded with her staff to ''please take the children to the hospital if they get sick'' possibly suggesting that this duty has been neglected in the past. Indeed at one point the clear illness of one child was overlooked until Jonathon physically took the little girl to a member of staff and told her she needed to be looked at.

The Kitchen at the orphanage needs re-building, at the moment they cook outside in a make-shift kitchen. Although they can make do with the outdoor kitchen at the moment, Sr Lydia did appeal that something was done about the chimneys in the kitchen which were not built properly, so allow thick black smoke into the orphanage dining room.

One child in particular desperately needs help, she sits all day banging her head off the wall, refuses to talk to anybody and is bullied by some of the older children there. Her family recently requested to take her home but Sr Lydia refused, fearing that they would think she was a witch. Sr Lydia hopes her mental state will improve with time and that then she can go home, but I think this unlikely. There is one mental health doctor for the whole of the upper west region, but even Sr Lydia realises that if she is to be truly helped then she needs to go to Accra. Her name is Mary Magdeline.

As for the progress of the orphanage itself I think we can be very happy, the children are visited every week by a team of nurses and we believe that the majority of the time if a child is sick, it is taken to hospital straight away. The number of the children in the orphanage decreased in the time we were there, as Sr Lydia constantly struggles but succeeds to find new homes for the children. I am led to believe that it has improved alot since the last visit and so long as it is in the very capable hands of Sr. Lydia and with the help of our backing, it can only go from strength to strength.

Other Notices

St. Aidans Catholic  Primary School in Ashington Northumberland (the school where my mum teaches) recently did a whole topic on Ghana inspired by our trip. They learnt African dance, art and I gave a talk to each class about Ghana in the week before we flew.

They raised money for St. Josephs Orphanage through cake sales and other events totalling £250 . A cheque of £124 was sent out to Jonathon and myself for us to hand over to Sr Lydia while we were there, the rest we will send down to you!

Also inspired by the children in Ghana was a young boy called Luke from St. Aiden's who raised money by walking 6 miles around Northumberland. He raised £250 for St. Josephs and handed over a giant cheque to Jonathon and myself in a recent assembly, even getting himself and me in the local paper!

Both Jonathon and I hope to go back into St Aidans to tell them all about our trip!

Thanks also go to:

Orphanage Report 2008

Report on Visit to St Joseph’s Orphanage in Jirapa Uwr, Ghana

Jonathon Devitt.By Jonathon Devitt

Our first visit to St Joseph’s Orphanage was somewhat of an eye opener; semi-clad children in grubby clothes vying for our attention whilst we were being shown around the solid but rather dingy and musty orphanage building and its grounds.

Anne, who had had the opportunity to visit the orphanage briefly in March, told us that the children had seemed in far better spirits than during the previous year’s visit and they were most certainly lively; excited by the introduction of newcomers and wanting to be held – something which they had apparently not done the year before.

The atmosphere in the orphanage is definitely one of change, and for the better; Sr Lydia, the current incumbent of the position of manager of the orphanage has a larger than life personality, a wicked sense of humour and is obviously well respected in the local community. She has grand plans for the orphanage and is slowly going about realising them; slowly owing to the fact that it takes money to complete most of the work to be undertaken requires money – something which is in relatively short supply at St Joseph’s.

Sr Lydia with a young orphan.Sr Lydia has increased staff numbers to six carers, ensuring that there are at least two on the premise at any one time, though through the day this number is typically four. Additionally, as a former nurse, she has gone about ensuring the children’s health is monitored and tended to as best she can in the circumstances; she has registered all of the children with Jirapa hospital. Furthermore, a group of trainee community nurses visit the orphanage once a week to perform check-ups on the children. Sr Lydia has also gone about training her staff to be able to administer simple medicines such as Calpol where previously the children’s fevers may have gone untreated and led to more serious conditions.

Joseph and I spent six weeks in Jirapa and six days a week in the orphanage, painting the interior as per Sr Lydia’s instructions and playing with the children, with whom we bonded very quickly....

Despite the advances which have been made in the last year, the situation at the orphanage is still far from ideal...

You can see the past 2007 orphanage report by visiting - the Orphanage History Page.