January 12, 2013 | 2 Comments
Hair is piled and pinned up. Hands washed. It’s time to cook lunch for the children and the staff. On the menu for today were: dal with brinjal (small eggplants), spinach with karamini (white beans), gentleman’s toes (they look like minuscule gourd), chapatti, rice, curd (plain yogurt) and boiled eggs. The chapatti is made fresh daily right before lunch. The fragrant spices like turmeric, cumin, mustard seeds, and curry leaves blended with the delicious aromas of sautéed garlic and onions. You can smell it even in the office two floors up. Heaping spoons of hot red chili powder were added to pots, which made all the amateur cooks in the kitchen cough. Hours later, we enjoyed the tasty and spicy lunch with the staff and the children.
While the cooks finished up lunch, the fostered children arrived to VCT and gathered in the dining area for a snack. Today it was an orange. I have to admit that the children I met at VCT are the most well-behaved children I’ve ever seen. They are every parent’s dream! Every single person at VCT participates in raising the children. They don’t only provide them with basic needs but also teach them about rules and consequences, nurture their self-esteem and foster their social and emotional development. It’s really impressive to watch.
After snacking, the children headed down to the school located in the basement with their teacher, Savita, and a lovely and energetic volunteer. They welcomed Jennifer and me with a song. Sylvia (a social worker at VCT) had warned us that once they start singing they won’t stop. It was very true. You can hear their voices on every floor and every room of the building. Jennifer and I were able to sing along to songs we know: “if you’re happy and you know it”, “twinkle twinkle”, and “the hokey pokey”!
Knowing that this will be my last day at VCT this trip, I made my rounds to the rooms and said hello and goodbye to all the children hoping that the next time I visit they will have moved on to live with loving families. In the infants’ room, the caregiver was feeding a 4-month-old girl. So I sat with her on a rug to observe. The caregiver fed the child with patience and care. She burped the child and let her rest for a minute or two before feeding the rest of the bottle. She comforted her when she fussed and maintained eye and verbal contact especially when the child got distracted (mostly by me!). The girl was all smiles after she was fed and burped.
I made my way to the room where children with special needs, many with psychomotor delays, have their lunch. Seated on a rug, with their backs rested against a wall, each child had a large piece of cloth on their lap to protect their clothes from any food that they might spill. With the caregiver’s supervision and occasional help, they fed themselves with deliberate control, one slow spoonful at a time. They were using regular utensils and they did a pretty good job.
For the rest of the afternoon, I met again with Mary Paul and the staff and gave a presentation on the nutrition screening tools that we plan to pilot test at VCT among other sites. This was followed by a great discussion on the many uses and potential applications of the nutrition screening system. After hours of discussion, we gathered outside VCT for a souvenir photo.
This visit has been truly a wonderful experience. The staff was so organized and very well prepared for my visit. All my questions were answered candidly. Mary Paul went above and beyond to make us feel welcome and comfortable. Jennifer has made all this possible. She’s a wonderful colleague and collaborator to have, not to mention a great travel partner!
Stay tuned for news from my visit to Pune, India next week.