A Visit to the Orphanage in Panama


Today we rented a car and drove out of Panama City to visit Hogar San Jose De Malambo. Here are the highlights:

1. We did not die in a car accident with a Diablo Rojo (Panama’s brightly painted public buses driven by mostly ex-cons who rule the road).

2. We actually found our way out of the city and over the Bridge of the Americas thanks to these stellar directions. (This is not as easy as you think as there are NO SIGNS that make any sense pointing you in the correct direction.)

3. We eventually made it to the orphanage after getting lost for 45 minutes. We finally pulled over to a grocery store parking lot and asked someone for directions. A dirty white van, brimming with loads of people and piles of groceries, graciously escorted us the last two miles to the orphanage. That’s pretty nice if you ask me.

4. Meeting the Sisters and ladies who care for these children was a delight – almost as delightful as meeting many of the children. The openness and warmth beaming from their beautiful and trusting faces touched me deeply. I want to take them all home, but I don’t think they will fit in the RV. (But I can fundraise for them and send cookies and coffee to the people who help out.)

Here are some pictures… and a little video of mi madre driving us there. You may wonder why we are so jubilant in the video. Go driving in any Latin city and you will understand. We feel like we can do anything now.

You may also wonder, “hey, where are all the pictures of the children? I want a refund!” When I asked if I could take pictures, I was told not to capture their faces out of respect for their privacy. What does that leave? Hands. Shoes. Feet. I think I got a set of knees in there, too. Very cute knees.



The entrance to the orphanage. The very colorful entrance to the orphanage.

sign This haven for children has been around since 1890. You can tell they know what they’re doing here. It’s clean, organized and runs smoothly.

meandlourdesMe and Sister Lourdes. She has been serving the orphans of Panama for 38 years.

handA sweet hand hanging over the side of the crib. There are 162 children living here.

boyswithbeansThere were three young boys playing together in this room. One boy was blind and having a good time twirling in circles and laughing. He loved that I reached out and touched him, and he even clung to me for a moment. The three-year-old boy, on the left in the photo above, was playing with a plastic bottle filled with dried beans. Shake, shake, shake!

toothbrushesA neat line of toothbrushes, each carefully labeled with the name of its owner. Every tray has its own bar of well-worn soap.

sockonfootA random foot finding its way through the bars of a crib during a peaceful slumber.

hivhouseThe house where HIV positive children live and receive treatment.

nursewithdrugs Their lovely nurse showing us some of the drugs the children take everyday.

emanueldrugsHere are Emanuel’s doses. Each child has their own tray in the refrigerator.

hivdrugsKeeping these shelves full is very costly and one of the orphanage’s bigger expenses.

handcup Ana, a beautiful 3-year-old, finishing her lunch. She is HIV positive.

shoesAna’s shiny black shoes.

bagofshoes Speaking of shoes, here’s a bag of hand-me-downs making their way around the orphanage, awaiting to be claimed by grateful new owners.

lookingoutathouses What happens when the orphans grow up? Here is Alina, our tour guide, who is also a former resident. She came here when she was eight-years-old. She is now studying physical therapy at the university. It seemed that every child we passed especially loved their “big sister” Alina!


Courtney Baker March 25, 2011 at 3:22 pm

We have family members that just moved to Panama full time. They have told a few adventures about driving around town, using a horrible map, and getting lost. Sounds just like your video! Hehe! Way to brave it out.

Melanie March 26, 2011 at 4:52 pm

Hi Courtney, thanks for the comment!

Your family is brave; most expats take taxis or have drivers. You should come down and visit them sometime. Panama is a lot of fun!
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Dan May 26, 2012 at 6:08 pm

Hey I realize this post is very old, but I just stumbled upon it and have a couple questions. I am spending my summer in panama working as an intern in a local business. On my weekends I have some free time and was looking for some charity or service opportunities around the area. Do you know how I can get in touch with/go to this orphanage? Or whether there is even anything that I can do to help if I were to go? Any info would be greatly appreciated. You can contact me at the email listed above, djw0008@auburn.edu. Thank you so much!

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