I arrive at Open Arms just before 7 am when the night shift are just about to hand over to the day shift.
I make my way around the Home and grounds saying Hello and Good morning to everyone… Babies, Toddlers, Matrons , Night duty staff going home, Day duty staff arriving, Kitchen ladies (I laugh so much every time I see Chimwemwe whip off her wig and plop it on her hook like you might do with a hat) Laundry ladies, Gentlemen, Security staff and any Volunteers that might be here.
There’s usually a couple of babies that are awake and in their bouncy chairs and I love stopping for a little chat with them, and then having a quiet peep in the nurseries at the littles ones still sleeping peacefully.
My ‘Morning Hellos’ end with the Harrogate House Bathroom - I never imagined a Bathroom would be one of my favourite places to visit in a day!!!! Before that though I am greeted by Grace, Isaac and Thoko (dressed and ready for school) and Grace and Isaac accompany me to the Bathroom where we find the rest of the Harrogate Housers on their Potties. They are supposed to be getting on with the business at hand but for an outsider it would seem like time for a sit down and a good old chit chat. Except all 9 of them are chit chatting at once and trying to tell me in smiles, gestures and toddler style Chichewa/English what’s been happening. They certainly like to update you with all their news, which is along the lines of: the water made someone‘s dress wet, someone else was crying, someone else didn’t make it to the potty on time..... and as I greet all of them by name they often tell me which House Mum is in the shower at the same time and that I should greet them also. Not exactly your average office experience!!
Logistics, home improvements and visitors
Back in the office, I liaise with Kondwani. I think of him as our ‘logistics person’, in charge of delivering and collecting anything and everything we need whether it be babies to hospital, children to school , groceries to the home, maintenance supplies from dealers, volunteers to the airport, food deliveries to rural areas. We couldn’t do without him.
Matrons Mrs Phiri, Matron Enniffer, Director Charlie and I meet every morning at 8 am. During this meeting all aspects of what needs doing to continue caring for the 100 children and managing 100 staff are discussed, planned and put on our To Do lists.
After that meeting I touch base with Johnam our Head Groundsman and together we look at what maintenance needs attending to. We have five buildings on the main site and five foster houses off site so my maintenance list is never ending. Contractors will need calling, haggling with, paying and sometimes persuading. I once had to persuade the plumber that the foot shaped hole in the ceiling board where he was working couldn’t possible have been made by him dropping a small spanner!
And onto the administration
The rest of my morning will be spent working on finance, procurement for the Main Home and Foster Houses, keeping in touch with Open Arms’s many friends, donors and sponsors, keeping records both written and photographic of all our babies and children on the main site and in the Foster Houses and managing our volunteer program. It’s unusual if during this time there isn’t a trickle of visitors through the office as well… well-wishers, staff or volunteers.
At certain times of the year we are very busy with visitors and volunteers and meeting and greeting people, showing people around and looking after volunteers is a very welcome break from paperwork.
The wider family
Not part of my typical day but an aspect I really enjoy, is spending time with the older children who are more permanent members of our Open Arms family. Every other Friday afternoon I get together with the Foster Girls, and some of the House Mum’s for a session of chatting and sewing. It gives me chance to get to know them whilst also sharing with them something they can use to give them pleasure and build their self-esteem.
They are always so delighted with their efforts. These are the kind of activities that volunteers can offer our older children. I believe it’s really important that children in these circumstances have activities that are therapeutic and relaxing, and that build their self-esteem, self-confidence, and help show them an alternative view of themselves. I am trying to schedule in a similar sort of session for the older boys. We’ve had some swimming and art sessions and recently did a hike up Michiru Mountain (Selfie with a snake article) which literally expanded their horizons, both physically and metaphorically.
A message to you
My personal request to volunteers would be; PLEASE come and share your skills and passions with these older youngsters. It makes such a difference to them.
Never a dull moment
With Foster Houses to manage, maintenance to monitor, a recent outbreak of bed bugs to remove and the many fundraising activities to support there is never a dull moment as Administrator at Open Arms. We’re sure that you’ll agree that we are incredibly lucky to have someone as calm, caring and capable as Helen. She not only supports the day to day operation in Malawi, is a fantastic host to our visitors and staff but always has a story and smile to share.