When I enter Sanyu babies’ home at 11:30am, it is very silent and one cannot imagine it is a home for scores of little ones.
Once inside, I realise there are dozens of children here, ranging from mere days old to three years old. But still, the babies are not crying. They look at one another, some giggling. Caretakers and a few volunteers in the nursery are involved in beehive activity.
Some are dressing, showering or feeding babies others are in the pantry preparing meals as the rest do the laundry. When home administrator Barbara Nankya Mutagubya, leads me to their dining room, all babies unanimously scream, “Mummy! Mummy! Mummy!” They raise their hands for cuddles, the same way young birds would do their necks when mother-bird brings food.
‘Mummy’ Nankya carries one while others hold onto her skirt and feet. At Sanyu, a cuddle for these little ones is sometimes more treasured than even candy. In fact, some volunteers come from dawn to dusk, just to carry the sweet babies – most of them abandoned at birth or dumped in dumpsters, hospitals and toilets – one by one.
Nankya may not be their biological mother, but her handling and empathy justifies the babies’ yearning for her. The healthy-looking, well-behaved children are a beauty to behold and one can hardly believe these little souls were abandoned by anyone, for whatever reason.
I had stopped by to see how the Christmas celebrations were getting on at the home.
Mummy Nankya says that ideally, every day is Christmas at this home, because such vulnerable children deserve the kind of love Jesus accorded to children. But this does not mean the actual Christmas day is not recognised. When December 1 comes, Nankya says, the children are told about Christmas the older ones usually understand and get excited.
“You would have found a lot of decorations, but a volunteer let us down. She had promised to decorate for us during our Christmas party, but she pulled out. We shall have to do it ourselves,” Nankya says.
In preparation for the Christmas party, which happens a few days to Christmas, the children learn different songs and some skits. It is usually those between two and three years that are involved. The younger ones are carried by their caretakers outside to enjoy the activities.
“These celebrations go up to Christmas day. As we put up the decorations on Christmas eve, we also involve them in decorating the Christmas tree, such that they can have a feel of Christmas,” says Nankya. “We wrap gifts and they can understand, ‘this is my Christmas gift’. We ask them their favourite gifts but they are so much interested in toys. One will tell you ‘for me I want a doll’, another ‘a toy car’.”
Although this Anglican church-affiliated home in Namirembe relies on donations, Nankya says there is always a special budget and meal for Christmas.
“We know Monday is always beans Tuesday is fish, Wednesday minced meat, Thursday chicken and Friday cowpeas. So, we will ensure that this Thursday (Christmas), we shall prepare what they want most. They want French fries (chips), mashed Irish potatoes, spaghetti, fried chicken because these other days we rarely give these to them,” she says.
Maria Nampiima, a caretaker at Sanyu babies home, has cerebrated her last 14 Christmas days with babies here. Many may have been adopted during this time and are now adults, but for Nampiima, it is the same feeling every year. She, with Nankya’s help, explains how Christmas day at Sanyu unfolds.
“Our day starts at 5am when children below six months wake up to take milk. At 6am, other children wake up to take porridge. By 7:30am, it is morning devotion. Being a busy day, we usually have no priest to do a special service with us we stick to devotion. At 8am, the children shower and then the colourful day starts.
“We [turn on] the Christmas lights, play with balloons, play Christmas carols for them and they can dance. At 10am, there is a snack, and before you finish all this, it is midday and lunchtime.
“After lunch, they are already tired and go for a nap.
“We [hope] once they finish their lunch, we can take them out but it is impossible. All places would be packed with people and we don’t want our babies to fall sick thereafter.
“We have an average of 50 children but only have 41 staff that work with volunteers in shifts. So, we decided we shall spend our day at Sanyu.
“There are three children of three years but the biggest number we have is less than two years. Those who were here last year at least still recall last year’s Christmas party.
“We had funding and someone brought buses that took all of us out. We went even with the one-day-olds. But up to now, they still ask, ‘Mummy, are we going in the bus?'”
Nankya notes that the biggest challenge is lack of volunteers on Christmas day because everybody is with their family, yet December is a very busy season.
“Many children are being abandoned in the months of November and December. Caring for 50 children at a time [without] 50 pairs of hands to help is very chaotic. We are always understaffed without volunteers on Christmas day,” she says.
For Nankya, the best Christmas gift anyone can give is leaving their families to come and dine and play with the babies. Here, they can also know they are loved, valued like any other children, for Jesus loves them all.
Nsambya babies home:
Across the valley on another hill sits Nsambya babies’ home. Like at Sanyu, most babies here are brought by police, found abandoned, neglected, or abused. Authorities here say if the child’s family is able to take care of them, they are returned to their family. The home currently houses 22 children between zero and six years.
At this Catholic church-founded home, however, Christmas is celebrated differently from Sanyu. Sr Mary Jane Nakabugo, the administrator, says caretakers are allowed to take the children to their homes during Christmas. Such an act is figurative of baby Jesus in the families these babies go to.
She says those over three years usually go to school and can tell that the Christmas season has started. They can understand the decoration in the homes they are taken to.
“Whenever they see their caretakers taking them home, they know they are going to have a party at home. They love parties so much,” Sr Nakabugo says.
Caretakers receive incentives such as diapers, sugar, soap, milk, baby porridge to take home for this short holiday. They are, however, not forced to take the children but only the willing ones go with them. One can take a maximum of two children.
“We cannot give an [outsider] the child to spend with them Christmas because the children are not used to them, and also for security reasons we prefer our own caretakers. Those who don’t have accommodation don’t take the children,” adds Sr Nakabugo.
Betty Nankabirwa, a caretaker, says she has always taken two children for the last three years. She has two children of her own but they welcome the new children in the home her husband too.
“My husband loves children so much. He even follows up on the children that I bring home. He looks after them, feeds them, and showers them as if they were his own,” says Nankabirwa. “The children I take are very young but when they see the decoration at my home, they are so happy to see something different and I tell them it is Christmas day.”
Nankabirwa says children love a lot of food, gifts and playing. They usually ask for teddy bears, toys and cars. However, most of them prefer toys to any other gifts. Meanwhile, Sr Nakabugo echoes her counterpart at Sanyu’s sentiments, that the most important gift for such children is love.
“Even if you have all it takes to look after them, the children need a lot of love. If you show them that love, then you are great friends,” she says.
Wrap your gift:
Next Thursday is a day on which Christians remember the greatest love of all the day God gave us His only begotten son, Jesus Christ. That same day, a new mother somewhere could be throwing their newborn away without second thought, but other Ugandans will be sharing their love beyond their families.
These babies’ homes go through hundreds of diapers a week consume countless cartons of milk and food, and the babies outgrow their clothes so fast. Above all, they can never have enough cuddles and hugs, as well as people to play with them.
In case you were out of Christmas gift ideas, share your love by visiting Sanyu, Nsambya, Malaika, Open Doors, Watoto or any children’s homes you know that are open to such visits, and give the babies a Christmas to remember.
Source : The Observer