Before I knew it, lunch was being brought into the therapy room for the children. Or that is what we were told it was... It looked more like greyish brown sludge. Janet explained that soup and sandwiches were provided for the preschools, crèche and orphanage on a Friday lunchtime, along with other charitable organisations in the town, by a church int the area. As most of the children had feeding and swallowing issues, the sandwiches were liquidised into the soup, producing the sludge. Even though it was a while since breakfast, one glance at the children's lunch stopped any hunger pangs I might have had!
However, the children were hungry and had no other lunch option. Lizzie suggested that I feed Leroy, and I was directed to a bag, hanging on the side of a cupboard, to find a bib for him. Lizzie put him back in his chair, and, once the bib was round his neck, he eagerly opened his mouth for his food. Unfortunately the food did not stay in his mouth and dribbled down his chin. And so began the battle to try to get more food inside this baby than ended up in the bib. He coughed and spluttered as he tried to swallow it, and soon I was wearing some of the food as a result. Oh dear! I persevered with feeding him, and eventually there was no food left in the bowl. His bib, on the other hand, was soaked in food and saliva. I hurried to take it off, before his clothes underneath it were soaked too, but Leroy dissolved into tears. I wasn't sure what I had done, so I got him out of his chair for another cuddle, but that didn't help much. I felt useless at that point, and handed him over to Lizzie. It was, after all, time for us to head back to the church compound for our own lunch.
Hannah and I walked back, sharing our experiences of the morning, looking forward to our nice lunch awaiting us, but also eager to return after lunch.
Over lunch we heard how the rest of the team had got on that morning. As the preschools and crèche were only open in the mornings, several other team members came back with us to Asiphé.
The children with cerebral palsy were all in bed when we got back, but the five mobile children were up (A, D, R and N having returned from preschool / crèche) and when we arrived they led us outside to the garden.There was a large trampoline there and they took turns to be lifted up to have a bounce / be bounced. Then they wanted us to push them on the swings, which were made out of old car tyres. It started to get cold outside - it was winter, after all, and we persuaded them to come inside with us.
There was a quiet hubbub or activity coming from the bedrooms, and we looked through the doors to find the housemothers sorting pyjamas and bowls of warm water and towels. It was time to get the children clean and into their night clothes. Once again, I was pointed in Leroy's direction and shown his nightclothes in a pile. I started to undress him - layer upon layer of clothes! No central heating in the middle of winter here - they had to keep warm as best as they could. There wasn't that much left of Leroy when I got down to bare skin. His round face had given the impression that he was quite a chubby boy, but with no clothes on, it was clear that he wasn't. I thought back to lunch time and wondered if he had still been hungry when I took his bib off... He was wearing a worn cloth nappy and stiff rubber pants. The nappy was soaked through when I took it off and his skin looked a bit sore. Lizzie showed me how I could lay him in the bowl of water, supporting his head. He loved that water and started moving his legs a bit in the water, and then kicked them a bit more. It was lovely to see him enjoying some freedom of movement. As the bedroom was not very warm, I was worried he would get cold if I let him enjoy the water for too long, but he wasn't best pleased to be lifted out of it. I wrapped him in his towel, and was then shown how to massage his skin with some sweet-smelling baby vaseline. Then it was time to get a clean cloth nappy on him, and to layer his night clothes on - long sleeved vest, long sleeved t-shirt, pyjamas, socks, cardigan - and he was back to being a chubby cuddly baby again!
Once the children were clean and clothed they were put back into their chairs and pushed into the therapy room, and put in front of the television which was showing a children's video, while they waited for their evening meal. As some of our team were going to the youth club meeting that evening, we needed to get back to the church compound to ensure we had eaten our meal in time, so we left the children and house mothers to manage the evening feeding routine by themselves, wondering why we had just got them clean and into clean clothes, when the evening meal was likely to be as messy an affair as lunch!
We had a busy weekend planned, so we bid the children and staff of Asiphé farewell, promising to be back on Monday morning, and walked back to our temporary home, along the road in the gathering twilight, satisfyingly tired after a busy day.