The Children of Open Arms Orphanage

Hello, I am Jaidynne. Working at an orphanage in Malawi, Africa, really gave me a new perspective on child behavior, and how the cultures they are brought up in can affect that. At the time of my service, I left Arizona at 17 seeking new experiences and ways of life. Well that’s exactly what I got. I saw a new way of living that was carefree, independent, strong, selfless, and gratuitous. I was being shown a more evolved way of being by 4 year olds, 7 year olds, 10 year olds… just CHILDREN! It was truly humbling, if I’m being honest.

 I was surrounded by babies for 90% of my time there and I heard crying maybe twice. When I was teaching preschool, a little boy, almost 3, fell off his chair and face planted into the stone floor. His legs flew in the air and he just smacked into the ground. I was so prepared for whaling and was ready to run over and comfort him. But he just got up, and sat back down without making a peep. I was so shocked I almost had to laugh a little. Like, this boy just fell on his face and didn’t react LOL. 

Next to the orphanage was a construction site where we built classrooms for a school nearby. The school was right next to a village, so there were always kids around. Here, I saw children carrying buckets of water to their homes, and a family working together to prepare dinner(a 10 year old making beans while her 7 year old sister grinded corn meal). Some cultures might look at this as “slaving your children away”, but I admired it. It wasn’t punishment, and they were learning an important life skill early on. These kids are already more independent in some ways than the average 20 year-old where I’m from. The biggest thing for me, was when I saw a little girl, maybe 4, carrying her baby sister on her back. She used a cloth to do so, but I was so astonished. Never in my life would I think to see a child, taking care of another child. And none of the kids treated her differently either. She would run off and play with everyone else while her sister tagged along for the ride. First of all, I had no idea any human could be this responsible at age 4, secondly, after that instance, I quickly saw this was common and a part of the culture.

In Namalo village I also saw children carrying their younger siblings, and the catch is that it WASN’T a burden to them. They lived happily and were still kids, running around, playing, and enjoying life. I don’t want to leave the impression that kids raised kids, because that is far from the truth. Parents were still around to be parents, and children assisted in their own way.. 

A little girl in Namalo village (middle) carrying her baby sister.  

Every year that our trip leader, Caroline, goes to Malawi, she is able to deliver a baby. One day, she was telling the group how after she delivered a child, the mom put the child on her back to wrap it up in a cloth, and the baby just held on by itself. She said it just clinged to her like a little monkey while she tied her to her back. I just thought that was so amazing, that a newborn had that kind of strength. 

 At the orphanage I was able to bond with a girl named Nuali. She was so gentle, so giving, and just so beautiful. Everything she got, she gave me. She tried to feed me when I fed her, our relationship brought joy to my soul. The orphanage and the nearby village were full of little Nuali’s. The kids were just so grateful all of the time. They never complained about anything, they never cried, they just did their own thing. At the end of the day, I do recognize that they are still kids, and they were not perfect, but the culture they grew up in has far more conditioned them for life than what I have seen in American culture. 

Nuali from Open Arms Orphanage

Let’s fast forward to the end of the trip. I am in the D.C airport, walking past a little girl in pink furry boots throwing a temper tantrum because she’s not being held. I walk past crying children EVERYWHERE, who probably had some minor inconvenience that resulted in crocodile tears. Prior to Malawi, I would not have thought anything of it, because that’s what kids do, anything can set them off and that’s to be expected. But after seeing what they are REALLY capable of when they aren’t spoiled, learn respect plus the value of working at a young age, and aren’t given their own iPhones at age 6(yes 6), I have zero tolerance. Back at my boarding school, some of the faculty children started to get on my nerves too. They just cried and copped an attitude for reasons that I never saw once in Malawi! 

I am so thankful that I was brought up differently than today’s generation. I spent my childhood and some teen years playing in dirt, always outside, finding bugs and animals, and climbing trees. I didn’t receive a phone until I was 14, and even then it was an old flip phone. By chance, I was a good kid, at least that’s what my mom and dad say. No temper tantrums, rarely whaled, never screamed, and I can attribute that to having good parents that taught me the value of respect from day one. 

I think we can learn a lot from these rural type cultures. I’ve encountered plenty of ignorant people who grew up in industrialized places that look at a “third world country” and see it as a hole in the wall. As if a poverty struggle automatically begets a society of worthless people who have nothing to offer. I urge people with that mindset to step out of such a simple way of thinking, and go see for yourself before making such an assumption. One thing I know I cannot deny, is that those kids taught me much more than I could have ever taught them. I now see how much my culture underestimates the potential of our children. In Malawi, kids are not coddled over every little bruise and scratch. They grow a thick skin from the start and it begets their overwhelming kindness, gratitude and obedience that I have fallen so in love with, and have tried to adopt more of myself. Children are strong and capable of handling more than we think if we stop sheltering them, there is nothing oppressive about that.

On the complete opposite side of the age spectrum, I would like to kindly note that the chief of Namalo village, was a FULLY ABLED woman of 104 years. A woman of great admiration and great wisdom! 

Our trip leaders, Caroline and Caleb (right) next to the chief and her daughter.

A woman who walked up and down the hills of her village to carry, plant, and harvest 50 pound bags of corn all on her own. Oh trust me! We offered our help one too many times for her liking, and she declined every time. Can you imagine coming from a culture that normalizes unhealthy/obese citizens grocery shopping in electric carts, to seeing THIS? Like I said, it’s humbling. There’s no other word. 

To Be Continued…

By Jaidynne Lyke

Latest articles

Related articles

Leave a reply

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here