I’ll start by saying that this isn’t me and that these aren’t my photos from the trip. The are images from a Google search but are the same facility that I saw.
The Franciscan sisters have run this amazing orphanage since 1948 for children and infants under the age of two. We’ll be spending part of Saturday afternoons volunteering here after we move in August. Dakar La Pouponniere has been one of three charities that ISD has focused their outreach/service learning on.
I was pretty scared about what I was going to see when we went into La Pouponniere (French for nursery). There have been plenty of Dateline specials over the years about different orphanages around the world and none have necessarily been able to shine a positive light on any of them, at least that I have seen on television.
La Pouponniere is run by Franciscan nuns and is a bright and cheery place. The walls have been recently painted pink with Winnie the Poo mini-murals around (think pediatrician office waiting room). There are two sections-one for infants and one for toddlers under 24 months. All in all, there are currently ninety-three children in the Sister’s care. Guy and I had a chance to meet the nuns, as well as some of the many young women that they have working as “nannies-in-training” that help to care for the children. There is a small school for those young women that is part of the facility. My understanding is that the young women are from rural villages and that they receive education (think one-roomed school house) and job training that will be of help to them in finding paid employment upon adulthood. It’s also my understnading that the majority of the infants/toddlers are at La Pouponniere because the mother either died in childbirth in a area where they had no access to medical care or the infant was abandoned. Without a nursing mother, the families do not have access to formula or the ability to take care of the infant. The sisters take care of the infants until they are 2, eating table food and able to return to their family. Families can visit on Sundays if they are able to get to the city.
There are a few YouTube videos of La Pouponniere that different volunteers have made. It’s a pretty amazing place.
Guy started with the infants and I started with the toddlers. It was a hot day and there didn’t appear to be air conditioning, but there was a nice breeze coming through the windows. Guy ended up with some of the older toddlers outside with another volunteer playing with toys in a little courtyard. I stayed with the toddlers, played toddler games, gave hugs, rocked some, helped give a bottle to one (the bottles had little metal hang tags with numbers on them that identified which child got which bottle). The young women helpers were playing with children, handing out bottles, taking a couple at a time for a bath, etc. I’m sure they have many other things that keep them busy non-stop. While I didn’t have enough French to communicate with the girls, they were very smiley, sang and played music for the children and seemed very personable. My inability to communciate with the girls and nuns as well as I’d like to, will be one big reason that I keep brushing off my very rusty French.