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Service Learning Field Program Report #1

International Service Learning

Service Report #1

Orphanage for Kids with Disabilities, Brazil


            Today I went on a service trip to visit with orphaned kids who had neurological disabilities and accompany them on an outing to the zoo.  It was my first service visit on this voyage so I was a little unsure of what to expect.  When we got to the orphanage, I was very excited to see that their logo had kids in wheelchairs on it.  Being disabled myself, I was really excited to visit with people like me.  Walking into the orphanage was a little intimidating as none of us really knew what we were supposed to be doing.  For me, the ice was broken when one of the young adults came up to me motioning for a hug and help up the stairs.  It felt really good to be able to help someone else up stairs because I have needed help doing the same thing from time to time.  It was a reflection of how sometimes we all need help and sometimes we all have the opportunity to give help (and often it is at the same time).  From there I was much more relaxed and excited about the experience. 

   At first, communication with the kids was a little difficult as many of them were non-verbal and if they did speak, it was only in Portuguese.  I was amazed at how quickly I accommodated to that.  Most of the residents as the orphanage really enjoyed human contact whether it be holding hands, tickling feet, or giving hugs.  That requires no common language, or maybe it in itself is a kind of language.  I learned quickly by trial and error what the kids found interesting and enjoyable.  For example, peek-a-boo was met with a bored stare, but blowing bubbles was received with smiles and even squeals of laughter from some of the younger kids. 

   The zoo visit was more hectic than meaningful to me.  It was pouring for most of the time, and many of the students pushing the wheelchairs weren't aware of how to do that properly.  I was in a wheelchair myself and tried to show people how to get over bumps and ditches when pushing a chair.  I felt more like a burden than anything as I required some help myself to navigate the inaccessible parts of the zoo.  When it came time to for students to help the kids eat lunch, I was stuck in a traffic jam of wheelchairs and was able to offer little help.  I spent my time observing others' interaction and taking pictures.  The rest of the zoo visit passed by too quickly and soon we were waving goodbye to the kids' bus as it pulled away front he zoo. 

    I noticed that I differed from some of my fellow students in that many of them felt very sad during and after the orphanage visit.  I heard people talking later at dinner and one girl said, "I just can't get over how sad it was!"  This surprised me because I didn't really get that impression from the field program at all.  I think this goes back to a difference in perspective.  For others, I suppose they think it is sad if someone is disabled.  To me, that is like pitying someone who has a certain hair color.  It doesn't make sense.  This way of thinking reminded me of how the workbook talked about prejudices getting in the way of service.  If someone sees being disabled as being sad and needing to be fixed, his or her service job is already done.  They can't "fix" the disabilities so they don't bother.  However, if one looks instead at the kids' lives and what makes them sad or happy, much could be discovered and achieved.  This made certain things in my own life make more sense.  So many people pity me even as I am on this trip of a lifetime.  I now have a better idea of why.  Many see me as having something that needs to be fixed.  The fact that they can't fix me elicits various emotions of sadness, fear, frustration and pity.

   In carrying out my own observations, the residents seemed to not be wanting in many ways.  I noticed that many of the kids and young adults enjoyed human contact, and the staff was always there to reciprocate.  Though I did find it sad that the kids' parents had abandoned them, I was happy to see that the kids were certainly not lacking in love.  The workers there appeared to genuinely love the kids and cared for them as parents would.  The facility was very clean and inviting with warm colors and smiling faces.  The kids had friendly blue uniforms and the staff saw to practices of good hygiene.  The only thing I noticed as a potential area of improvement was more things to play with.  I didn't see any playground or many toys available. If I were to suggest future work with this group, I would suggest discussing enrichment ideas with the staff and helping to implement those ideas.  Furthermore, education about disability and support for parents of disabled kids would be an important addition to the community.  Most, if not all of the kids were abandoned by their parents, which is what I see as the fundamental social problem here.  Perhaps if people were more educated and tolerant of disabilities and if parents had support to care for their disabled children, this wouldn't happen as often. 

   This was a very meaningful educational experience for me.  I learned more about how disabilities were viewed by my peers and by people in Brazil.  I thought critically about what could actually address the problem of disabled kids being abandoned and realized that our group did almost nothing to help with that.  Still, it was an enjoyable experience and perhaps a good basis for future involvement in similar issues.  


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