Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Spending Spring Break at a South African orphanage

A high school student who once spent time in an orphanage wanted to help children going through a similar experience. Then a visitor came to her school to talk about an orphanage in South Africa called Open Arms. Once Jen Deglmann heard about the orphanage she organized a trip with a few other students and teachers to spend spring break in South Africa.

Deglmann is familiar with what the children in South Africa are going through as she spent the first couple of years of her life in an orphanage in the Ukraine. Diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome she was adopted by a couple in Minnesota where she flourished into a healthy teen.

From the Star Tribune, writer Allie Shah talks to Deglmann about the visit.

The students' days at the orphanage were spent playing board games with the children, baking cookies for them, watching movies with them and giving them piggyback rides.

"It didn't seem like work when you were doing it," said Deglmann. "You're put in the middle of these kids who want love and attention, and you just go for it."

In all, there were more than 30 kids at the orphanage -- boys and girls 12 and under.

The children live in brightly colored huts with ceilings made of straw and cow manure. But the huts were tidy quarters, Deglmann said.

Their time spent with the boys and girls left a deep impression on all four student volunteers, said Nicole Rasmussen, the freshman dean at Benilde-St. Margaret's who chaperoned the girls along with another teacher.

They learned from the orphanage director stories of where each child came from, where their parents were, and how they came to be orphans.

One toddler girl had been stabbed in the forehead by her father. Another small boy had been found in the garbage.

Such heart-wrenching biographies opened the high school students' eyes to larger societal tragedies and how they affect people's lives.

"They have a deeper understanding of poverty and what child abuse and child neglect and disease and lack of infrastructure can do," Rasmussen said. "I do believe they are changed."

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