Yesterday, I went to an orphanage to feed children in memory of my grandmother. I was touched by their simplicity when I served them, and watched as they ate. You go to an orphanage knowing that they are like all other children, yes, but little things amazed me. I was struck, for example, by the fact that, like all other children, they need to be encouraged to finish their food. Especially with the little ones, the helpers had all the standard lines, “Good girl, come on, you can finish that!” I realised that I had stereotyped them already when I expected them to be hungry enough to enjoy every meal.
What made the most powerful impression on me, though, was a conversation I had with the helpers later. I wanted to know what else I could do to help, asking what they needed – notebooks, toys, clothes…
The helper shook her head. “Honestly, we have enough of those. When people think of children in an orphanage, they think of clothes, toys, stationery, books, biscuits and even chocolate. We have so much of all that stored.l Especially biscuits.” These were the things I was thinking about, so I remained silent. “What we need most is things like toothpaste. No one thinks of bringing things like that. But shampoo, detergent, soap, oil and toothpaste – and in this cold season, thinks like Vaseline. These are important too.”
And that was an eye-opener for me. Next time, I’ll take food, yes. But I’ll also take toothpaste.