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Monday, 01 March 2021
Book Review: Silent Tears (on orphanage life) Print
Imagine for a moment…

You volunteer in an orphanage and find yourself surrounded by conditions that you never before knew existed… Cleft lip babies die from lack of nutrition because no one has the time to painstakingly feed them. Children who’ve just been abandoned lie sobbing for their lost mothers yet are ignored so that they adjust more quickly to their new environment. Babies fear bath time where in freezing temperatures they are rinsed under cold water and then left bare in cribs until they can be dressed, assembly-line style. Toys and other forms of stimulation are absent because they create sharing problems in large groups of deprived children. You routinely see bottles, still half-full, snatched away from infants who are still desperately hungry. Babies regularly disappear…and you know, all too often, that their deaths could easily have been prevented with adequate care. While you’d like to step in when the orphanage workers get too aggressive with children, you know that speaking out may mean foreigners are disallowed…and make it so that the children suffer even more when your back is turned. You reach out to a few children, taking them home with you for short respites from the orphanage, but realize that with every trip back they feel the pain of abandonment yet again.

What would you do?

Kay Bratt decided to write a book, Silent Tears; A Journey of Hope in a Chinese Orphanage, detailing the experiences she witnessed as an orphanage volunteer from March 2003-summer 2007. The insights she provides into the daily operations of one orphanage (unnamed) in China are immensely valuable to adoptive parents.

So often, children come home with behaviors that mystify adoptive parents. Why do certain noises, places, actions, people, or events cause children to shut down, act out, or react in defensive ways? Bratt’s story helps parents to understand the complexity of life in an orphanage and explain the reasons behind otherwise perplexing behaviors.

Through her experience, one might assume that Bratt faults the orphanage workers without accounting for the harsh environment in which they live and work. Yet she writes,
“My views about the orphanage continue to evolve. I used to be appalled by the treatment of the children and could see only the negative aspects of how the institution is run. Now I understand why babies are strapped down, why they are only given a half bottle of milk, and why the workers never pick them up or hug them. There are reasons for all of it: the straps prevent them from kicking off their blankets in the winter cold, and limiting their feeding enables the sickest children to keep down a small bit of nutrition. Now that I know how much work it takes to care for so many children packed into one room, I can see why the ayis don’t have time to stop and give them individual attention.”
If your child spent time in an orphanage or if you are considering adopting a child who has spent time in an institutional setting, this book is a must-read. It is exceedingly painful to contemplate the pre-adoptive existence that our children may have suffered (the book has given me nightmares) but we owe it to our children to try to understand the pain of their early lives.

Additional Note:
You can read a letter from the author here.


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