Read an excerpt below from the book, Silent Tears!
Ann asked me to initiate a new volunteer named Yolanda. She warned me that Yolanda was very outspoken and flamboyant, and asked if I would caution her about making derogatory remarks to the staff about the care and treatment of the children. She is worried we might be banned from our volunteer work if anyone is too judgmental.
I met Yolanda at the coffee shop near the orphanage, and as soon as I saw her, I knew there was going to be trouble. For one thing, the temperature was supposed to hit about 105 degrees that day. I was dressed for it in thin khakis, white T-shirt and hair up, but not Yolanda. She was Spanish, forty-one years old, and a fitness fanatic with a body that bespoke long workouts over many years. Yoli (she instructed me to call her) was wearing two shirts over a pair of tight silk pants with stiletto heels, her dark hair a wild mess of curls around her face.
Yoli was a fast talker and rapidly took me through her life story and what had brought her to China. Based on her many anti-American comments, I figured she was probably disappointed that I was going to become her volunteer partner.
Jumping in when she finally paused for air, I quickly shifted the conversation over to expectations of us at the orphanage. I tried to convey to her the seriousness of not making a bad impression and not criticizing the care of the children. I thought I was getting my point through, but was about to find out that not much gets through to Yoli.
After going through the proper administrative channels, we made our way to the baby area. As soon as she had taken one look, she started in with disdain and attitude. I told her she had to remove her shoes and wear the ones provided, but it was obvious she resented parting with her deadly weapons – although she did so and grudgingly put on the ragged slippers we all had to wear. The slipper policy is one of the few rules put in place to stop the spread of outside disease and one we all strictly obey.
For a short while, we enjoyed playing with the babies, but soon it was feeding time. It was the same as always: the workers prop the bottles on sheets and allow the babies to suck for about five minutes; then come and snatch the bottles away. The babies still appear hungry; I am not sure why they are not allowed more milk.
Yoli and I took the bottles we were able to hang onto and tried to move around to the babies who had yet to be fed. One little preemie boy looks like a shriveled-up old man. They never move him and his head is completely flat on the back from always lying in the same position. He is so skinny; he looks to weigh not more than four pounds. They had not bothered to give him a bottle so I grabbed one and rushed over. I realized why they hadn’t bothered; he was so weak he did not have the strength to suckle. I spent the next few minutes giving him drinks in small bursts by squeezing the nipple directly into his mouth.
When it came time to undress them for their baths, Yoli asked me to take care of the premature boy because she was afraid of hurting him. I picked him up and laid him on my left arm with his face in my hand. I was amazed at the way his little body fit on my slender arm. I massaged his shoulders and neck to help with the stiffness. I rubbed his tiny eyebrows because I remembered my baby girls both used to like that, and I was looking for a way to make him feel loved and comforted without causing more pain.
The worker took him from me and held him with one hand under his head and one hand holding his ankles. He was so stiff that he looked like a play doll. She held him brutally under the cold water, and Yoli wept. I was trying to hold it together because Yoli had already made them angry by her outburst of emotion.
I had prepared Yoli for the cold, brusque way in which the ayis behaved toward the babies, but it apparently had not registered. Under her breath, Yoli was calling the ayis dirty names; she thought they could not understand. They knew enough to know she was talking about them, so I kept my head down and did not respond. I know Yoli thinks I am a wimp, but I do not want to make things worse for the children.
The disgusted looks Yoli kept throwing their way did nothing but infuriate the women more. The workers passed the babies under the stream of water and then roughly dumped them into their cribs with a piece of clothing. Most of the time, they threw the clothes over their faces, causing the babies to struggle for breath underneath. Yoli and I rushed around dressing them and trying to calm them after the shock of the cold showers. What Yoli does not understand is the more compassion, pity, and outrage we show on our facesâ€” the rougher the staff is with the children. Two of the infants had bruises that were not there last week; based on their limited mobility I can only imagine how they got them.
I hope Yoli’s attitude will not get us thrown out. Even though we cannot change the situation, at least we give the babies a little love and care while we are there. What I had learned from Ann is that we simply have to keep silent and do what we can. All the histrionics only make it worse.
The boy preemie is really struggling and I can’t get him out of my thoughts. I want him to prove to the workers that he can survive. It is obvious in the disapproving looks they give us that they think it is a waste of time to nurture him. If nothing else, this orphanage runs a flawless model of survival of the fittest. One final thought for the day-I hope that Yoli will not want to come back. To lose a new volunteer is sad, but it will be better for the children.