Florence Koenderink has been volunteering with us on and off for six years, and is with us now for another two and a half month stretch. She’s at our Beijing infant care home daily, and is one of the most involved and dedicated volunteers we’ve had. Florence works with orphanages and other institutional childcare centers around the world. We recently sat down with her to talk about her background and what she does for Little Flower.
What is your job at Little Flower?
I’m a volunteer. I work with the medical team and help provide training and recommendations to our staff when they need it.
How would you describe a day’s work?
We start with rounds in the morning and spend the day keeping an eye on the children with the biggest problems. I also do physiotherapy as well as speech therapy. With regards to general care, I use my previous experience in orphan work to offer whatever advice I can to both the medical team and the Group Home managers on how things can be improved even more.
How did you start working with Little Flower?
I volunteered for China Care for a year in 2007. There, I got involved with the Little Flower hospice care project. In my first year, I was there helping out, training staff and filling out gaps in the roster. This has been my fifth time back since then.
How did you get into orphan work?
It started with that year in 2007 when I came to China to volunteer in children’s homes. I have an M.A. in Anthropology, but my entire working life, I’ve worked in childcare, whether it was nannying or maternity nursing.
After that first year in China, I found that I had the ability to contribute something that really mattered. I had learned so much and didn’t want to let that go. So I decided to do orphan work in more places. I participate in several projects around the world helping institutional childcare centers improve their care. I’m currently involved with two projects in India, one in Kenya, and Little Flower in China. I’ve also been in Brazil to work on a couple projects there.
In Kenya, I work with orphans and destitute children without caregivers. In India, I work with a local volunteer organization to improve conditions at a home for mentally challenged boys. I also work in a home of 300 kids, half of which are HIV positive. Connected to that is also an adoption home for babies who are HIV negative. The aim is to visit these projects every year, finances allowing.
Little Flower is the best I’ve seen in 6 years. I’ve been to so many places, and I’ve never seen anything that comes close to this kind of standard.
What challenges do you face in your daily work?
The biggest day-to-day challenge would be just finding the time to do everything that needs to be done. There are so many things to keep on top of in the limited number of hours in a day—physiotherapy with certain kids, speech therapy, and several babies that need to be regularly monitored and checked. And all of that is outside the situations that just pop up every day. Often, we’ll get specifically charged with babies with complex problems that no one else can seem figure out. So that’s a challenge.
What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
Seeing people “get it.” As an example, in 2007, I introduced the method of warming up hypothermic children with direct body heat, and at the time it was seen as a really weird thing to do. I would lie down and hold the baby skin-to-skin until they reached a normal body temperature. They started to see that it worked. Last year, I went back to that home. There was a different director there who hadn’t known I had introduced the method years ago. There was a baby with lowered body temperature, and before I said anything, one of the staff said that someone needed to lie down right then and there and warm the baby up. It had become standard practice. It’s not about what I do when I’m there. It’s about what people are able to do when I leave.
And obviously, it’s rewarding to see kids grow stronger and healthier and to have a part in that.
Any final thoughts for our readers?
I have a motto that I use in my own orphan work:
“I cannot change the world, but I can change the world for one child and then another and another.”
Well said, Florence! Check out her website at: www.orphanageprojects.org.