Last week Adam and I ditched our winter jackets, ran to the airport, and after a few flights landed in Panama.
We left the wintry plains of Kansas for a few days of summer in Central America because Adam was participating in the U.S. Grains Council International Marketing Conference as a representative for the U.S. Sorghum Checkoff, and I was his bodyguard.
While Adam was meeting with representatives from literally all over the world, I got to run around and see some of the country. I figured Adam would be safe without me for a few hours everyday–especially since Lance Armstrong and other Iron Man participants, and the Miss Panama contestants were also at our hotel for the week.
I figured he was pretty safe.
On one day I was able to visit San Jose de Malambo Orphanage with a group of other wives (and one husband) who had also insisted on being their spouse’s bodyguards on this trip.
Malambo is located about 20 miles outside of Panama City. The orphanage was established in 1890 and is a non-profit, non-governmental organization. It’s run by the Catholic Sisters of Mercy.
Malambo has 4 hectares of farmland (1 hectare= 2.47 acres) that is used to help supplement the food requirements of its children and staff. They grow fruits and vegetables and also have chickens, pigs, and milk goats.
Malambo provides a permanent home to about 180 kids, from newborns to 18-year-olds. Many of the kids have been abandoned or have been removed from their homes due to abusive environments. Some of the kids have major medical issues including Cerebral Palsy, Down Syndrome, and HIV.
The first stop for me was to visit with a group of eight to twelve-year old girls. The girls were (understandably) very shy at first, but after attempting to communicate with them (using my awesome Spanish skills–NOT!!) they began to open up.
They welcomed us into their house and showed us around.
The girls share rooms with others and sleep on bunk beds. It was laundry day, so they had stripped all of the sheets off the beds to get washed.
After touring their home, we colored together and tried to visit some more. I’m sure I wasn’t making complete sense when I was talking with them, but they were very nice and at least acted like they knew what I was saying.
All of the kids at Malambo were on their summer break–it’s the middle of summer for them–so they didn’t have to worry about attending classes. Among a lot of services it provides, Malambo provides schooling for all of the children that live there.
After spending some time with the girls, we visited a group of toddlers at another house. While we were walking up to their building you could see their little faces peeking through the windows as they bounced on the couch.
All of the sudden they all started screaming, “HOLA, HOLA, HOLA!!!” at the top of their lungs.
Once we entered their building they ran up to us and gave us high-fives–except one little girl who ran and hid behind a door.
Two rambunctious little boys had a Beanie Baby bird and wanted to play catch with us.
One little girl grabbed my hand to show me her room. She pointed out her princess doll and Elmo.
Eventually, the little girl hiding behind the door came out and cautiously followed us around.
These toddlers were what I would consider typical, fun little kids. They loved having visitors and showing off their toys and playing. They loved running around and were full of energy!
But this group of kiddos were very different from the rest of the kids at Malambo.
All of these kids were HIV positive.
Malambo stresses that they take any child–and provides that child with what they need. And for this particular group of children, that includes comprehensive medical care including expensive medication.
We were told by the head nun to be careful of taking pictures of the children’s faces for privacy reasons. Here are a few shots that I was able to get.
I’m very thankful for my experience at Malambo and I’m very thankful there are places like Malambo that provide so many children a loving and safe environment.
If you’d like more information about the San Jose de Malambo Orphanage, click here.