One of my greatest joys is being able to support babies in orphanages who do not have the vital touch and physical connection they need to thrive and reach their potential. I do this through our positive touch and connection program for orphanage staff which teaches baby massage and the five key ways to support infant mental health. It is my mission to share this program in as many orphanage settings as I can across the world to help reach babies in need.
Helping babies in Malawi with Blossom & Berry and Love Support Unite.
In 2014, I turned 40 and I decided I wanted to be able to give back the baby massage teaching experience I had loved over the years. I started looking for a charity I could work with to provide free training and support to staff in baby orphanages so that they could provide the vital touch that the babies crave and is vital for healthy development.
I stumbled across some incredible sunglasses called LOVE SPECS. Love Specs turn any light into rainbow love hearts and more importantly, through sales at music festivals, they generate income for Love Support Unite Africa (LSU). LSU was founded by Alice and Nina Pulford, two incredibly inspirational and amazing women who I love, to provide sustainable education to the poorest children in Malawi. Their work has ensured powerful and lasting change, built on people rather than proceeds.
I decided to volunteer with my student Kathryn Marshall with LSU using my experience in infant and baby massage to benefit babies in orphanages who were not receiving regular touch. I provided free training to the staff at the Ministry of Hope baby orphanage, so the babies could receive the vital interaction they were missing. Massage provides so much more than touch; it helps to support the development of the emotional brain in children, teaching them about the world and human relationships. Babies thrive and grow on love and baby massage provides a window of gentle stimulation and nurturing experience.
This project in Malawi is now expanding into other countries in partnership with my teachers and also other charities. In Malawi we also have a community outreach program where we teach women in the community infant massage and safe mother training to support mother & baby health.
This video shows the work we have achieved so far in Malawi.
Working with orphanages in Ghana- An account from Michelle McCarroll working with Blossom & Berry and Simon’s Mango Tree in Ghana.
My experience working in an orphanage in Jirapa, Ghana with ‘Simons Mango Tree charity by Michelle McCarroll.
I’m not entirely sure that anyone or anything could have prepared me for the heartache I was about to experience. The orphanage is managed by retired nuns, alongside a few local workers who all work extremely long days. Their jobs are to change and feed the babies and children. They also prepare and cook the children’s food as well as clean and wash their clothing.
There were 17 babies and children living in the orphanage on my arrival. Only one of the workers were present with the Sister, who was occupied on the phone chasing the relevant department regarding health and safety issues with the building.
All but four of the children are aged under three years. The four children are fortunate enough to attend a local kindergarten Monday to Friday. The remaining children are all under three years old, (the youngest were 3 month old twins).
Sadly, these children get little interaction and stimulation. They are withdrawn and both physically and emotionally neglected. The workers do their very best but the physical demands of caring for 17 children and babies makes it difficult to attend to all of their needs. Looking after such young children requires constant attention but the orphanage is quite simply understaffed.
When I arrived at the orphanage on most visits, I’d find the children in their own urine and faeces. The majority of them had blank expressions on their face and others I’d find rocking in attempt to self-sooth. The young babies can’t always be attended to when they cry and were left in their cots the majority of the day.
I spent my time there washing, changing and stimulating the babies and children through communication, song and play. I bathed them, ensured they wore clean nappies and wiped their runny little noses. I tried to nurture them.
I remember showing the children how to build a tower with blocks. They couldn’t even grasp the concept at first as play was something so unfamiliar to them. After a short while they picked it up and began building their towers. It was a delight seeing their little brains and hand-eye coordination getting to work.
Extensive documented research confirms that the first three years of a child’s life is the most sensitive period for brain development. The experiences a child has during this time will shape the brain and build the connections that allows them to develop lifelong skills such as problem solving, communication, self-control and relationship building. These are our basic survival skills.
These children needed at least two workers who will spend each day dedicated to caring for them, interacting with them and stimulating their minds. This is no substitution for a loving family or community even, however the nurturing will encourage healthy development which will always be better than nothing.
I have studied and worked in the Early Years for over 15 years now. No words can describe my experience in this orphanage. I honestly wish I could have brought those little babies home with me and giving them the love and care I feel all children deserve.
When I got back from my trip in October 2017 I raised funding to employ two extra workers in the orphanage who engage with the children and attend to their needs. It costs only £40 per month to employ these two workers.
I had been following Gayle from Blossom and Berry for a while and seen the amazing work she had done in Malawi. I really wanted to introduce Infant Massage to the orphange workers in Jirapa, Ghana. I contacted Gayle and we met in April where I learnt the Blossom and Berry Massage techniques.
I travelled back out to Ghana in May 2018 and it was a better experience compared to October last year. I observed one of the new workers responding to the children to meet their needs. If their nappies needed to be changed, she would change them. If any of the children cried, she picked them up and sang to them.
With the amazing support of Blossom and Berry and Simons Mango Tree I was able to teach 11 orphange workers infant massage and they did a fantastic job. The resources Gayle provided were beneficial to help the workers understand how massage can promote love and security for the babies and young children and how it contributes towards brain development. It really warmed my heart. It was so lovely seeing them all interacting with the babies, I could of cried with happiness.
All the workers received a certificate to say they had completed the Blossom and Berry Infant Massage Course. I believe this was a positive experience for them all. I ensured that they understood how special they are as creators of life themselves and being the main carers for the children in the orphanage.
My concerns are keeping it going whilst I am not there. I proposed to all the workers that I would need someone to lead. One lady came forward and I got her to lead a session whilst I observed and she did very well. She is able to read English so she found the Blossom and Berry manual helpful.
The sister in charge of the orphanage said she would make sure the massage is done with the children on a regular basis.
I feel better compared to when I returned last time. The children were more interactive this time round. I would love to keep the right care going for these children. Some of them were still self soothing (the older ones) and I know that unless they are taken away from that environment and given 1-1 love and care they may always use that coping behaviour.
Since I have returned I have been in touch with the lady from the orphanage who is taking lead on the massage and she informed me that all the workers get together to do the massage on the children. I have asked for some pictures and videos if possible as it would be great to see them in action.
I still feel like this is just the beginning but I am so thankful for Gayle for supporting me on this journey to introduce Infant Massage to the Orphanage and thankful to Simons Mango Tree for believing in the project. A slight difference is better than nothing.
If you are currently working with an orphanage and would like us to come a train staff or raise awareness of our program, we would love to here from you. We donate 10% of of baby massage enrolments to projects like these through our Nurture Foundation. By learning with us, you make this happen.