Richard Crooks's Website

Feeding Children

One of my duties at the orphanage was to help feed the children. Many of the children were disabled, and had a range of physical or mental disabilities, and some of them needed help from staff and volunteers to eat, while others were able to eat themselves. The unit I was mainly helping had a mixture of children who were able to feed themselves and children who needed help, and I also helped in a neighbouring medical unit where all the children needed help eating, as they had much more complex medical needs.

On my first day at The Specialized Children’s Home of Nor Kharberd, I was introduced to Maya, who was the girl I would be feeding in the main unit I was based in. I'm a tall person and I remembered a piece of advice from my patient consultation session at the University of Manchester about not towering over patients in order to not intimidate them during consultations. So upon my introduction to Maya, I decided to follow this advice to squat as I spoke to Maya (“Barev Maya”) to make myself less intimidating.

This was unfortunately a big mistake! As soon as I did that, one of the other children who was very fond of pulling my hair when he got the chance decided that the mysterious new person with long hair definitely needed his hair pulling, and not gently either! Owwww! Help! And I had to be rescued from them by the staff! I better be careful here! Of course I was paying more attention when it came to lunch time and for me to start feeding Maya so there wasn’t a repeat of that.

When I started feeding Maya, she wasn’t very interested in me, and would twirl things (a scarf, a pair of leggings and a giraffe toy) in her hand as she ate and be more interested in doing that than anything else she was doing. She’d also do this if we went to shows and other events outside her unit, and she wasn’t particularly interested in playing with the other children. I found feeding her to be quite difficult at first because of this, as although she would eat, she was quite uninterested in it, and it was difficult to get her to eat. I had to gesture with the spoon of food towards her and wait until she opened her mouth.

Over the weeks of feeding Maya I started building a rapport with her and I started noticing she was becoming less withdrawn than she was at first. Despite our language barrier, we were able to communicate with each other and feeding her became much easier. I also started spending time with her when the children went to do activities, and also she'd want to join in when other children wanted to play with me. Although some of the other children were quite boisterous compared to Maya, so it was a challenge giving everyone attention fairly and accommodating all of the children’s needs. As the weeks went by, Maya started to raise her hand and liked it when I hi-fived her and I think she liked me spending time with her, and she started feeling comfortable with me and would reach to hold my hand if she wanted to start walking anywhere.

I also started spending time with her during other activities, such as when she went to hippotherapy where I’d help hold her as she rode the horses. She was able to walk, but liked to hold onto my hand as she walked carefully and slowly as we went to or from activities. It was while taking her back from a birthday celebration that the orphanage runs monthly, I noticed that she was avoiding staircases and was using ramps instead. It was at this point I realized that she was afraid of stairs! So when we came to a set of stairs that she’d need to walk up to get back to her accommodation unit, I was prepared to carry her up the stairs instead.

When it came to my last day at Nor Kharberd I was sad to leave Maya, and all the other children as I felt I was growing closer to them over the weeks. I hadn’t really spent much time with children before so the experience was transformative for me.

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