Monday, February 22, 2010

Our visit to Save the Children orphanage

Well, we've been busy this weekend. We went to the Save the Children orphanage on Saturday and then our home study provider came from Germany to do our home study on Sunday!

First, the orphanage visit! It took us about 2 1/2 hours to get up there. We drove through windy mountain roads. It was really beautiful; I love getting out of the city! There was a hairy 30 minutes of the drive when we drove on the mountainside on a one lane rocky road with no barrier and just a drop off! I kept praying that we wouldn't meet any cars or trucks on the way up when we would be on the side of the road by the edge. Thankfully, God answered my prayers and we only met vehicles on our way down when we could back up to a bit of wider place and then we get to hug the rock wall! We traveled up there with the mwami (king) who is actually a woman (her husband was the king and he died so she because the working king); she was one of the first women lawyers in DRC. When we reached the boundaries of territory she asked the driver to stop because she wanted to walk into it on foot. It was touching to walk with her as she told us different stories and identified things like wild raspberries on the side of the road.

We first toured the mission hospital. The orphanage is located at the back of the hospital compound. We were shown into the pediatric ward. That was sad! They used to get therapeutic milk for those children that came in with severe starvation, now they don't have any. There were some children there that were severely malnourished, and all they could do for them was give them medicines. I'm going to see if I can meet with UNICEF who used to give them therapeutic milk; it is given out free to all the hospitals here to treat severely malnourished children. Maybe it fell through the cracks for some reason. It was sad to realize that if the kids in the orphanage got any worse, in terms of malnourishment, they would go to the hospital where they couldn't do anything either.

The orphanage was a small building that was built by the Norwegian missionaries and aid groups to house 25 kids. You can tell that it once had funding and support because the walls are brightly painted with animals and flowers. They have far exceeded that amount of children because they are the only orphanage in a very large large area. So, they only keep children under 5 at this orphanage. There are 32 kids under 5 there now, 10 of them are 13 months and younger. They were all really little. About 80 plus kids are in foster families, or in some other extended family situation (these are all 6 years and older). There are two rooms and two small indoor rooms for playing when it rains. Otherwise they eat outside under a covered area on the floor. They have 4 caregivers during the day and 3 at night (which is not that many when you realize that out of the 32 kids, only about 12 are walking)! Most of the mothers of these children died at birth and then the fathers abandoned the babies at the hospital. Some children will go back to families after they have lived at the orphanage long enough to move past the vulnerable years of under age 5. (Once, we were told they tried to let a child go earlier than this back to his father and the child died soon thereafter of starvation).

We thought, when we visited the baby room, that most of the babies were 6 months or younger, because of their size and because almost all of them were laying in their cribs not rolling around. And when we held them they really couldn't hold their heads up and definitely not sitting on their own. It was heartbreaking to learn that most were 11-14 months old. One little boy was 7 months old. His mother died at birth and he was found almost 2 weeks later almost dead. He didn't look so good to me. I don't know how he will survive there. He probably weighs 6 lbs and has absolutely no strength. Children like him haunt my dreams. There was another little girl who is just 12 months old. Just rolling her head from side to side, so little, cannot sit or roll, her twin sister already died there. She appears very apathetic, she never smiles. She didn't appear that well to me, I don't think she will live that much longer either. I had brought one can of formula with me, such a small amount, we had no idea there were so many babies who desperately need formula up there. They try to feed these babies formula but it cost 12$ a can for a very small can and they have no regular funding! It's heartbreaking. There was another little guy who looked about 9 months old (if we used healthy kid standards) who was sitting up just rocking back and forth because he is so under stimulated. He probably is almost 2.

The thing is, is that the director there and the women who work there, really care about these kids and they are doing the best they can with what they have. An orphanage is almost impossible to run without outside funding. They lost their support 5 years ago, and you can tell. They now rely on donations that arrive sporadically. The director is wonderful and realizes that they need help. He also realizes the children need more stimulation and play and wants education for all of them so they can work with the kids. The staff get paid $40/month. This is a horribly small amount. It is much less than field workers get per month. So, they do the best they can.

So, I'm hoping and praying that we can raise some money to support this orphanage, at least bring some more formula up there, hopefully do more. We are looking at the possibility of Our Family Adoptions partnering with this orphanage, it's a wonderful organization that is not for profit and all the staff volunteer (including the lawyer). They are not an adoption agency, though they do support and help families who want to adopt from the orphanages that they are in partnerships with in Kinshasa and Lubambashi. Their mission is to provide resources to Congolese orphans, especially those who are not adopted, and to raise awareness about DRC. ONE way they accomplish our mission is through adoptions of children who will never have the chance to be raised in a family. Adopting families are required to give the orphanage a humanitarian stipend and to travel to DRC. They raise money to help support orphanages. The lawyer that started this organization is the one who has been helping us along the way and we've been so impressed with her and with the mission and focus of the organization, especially how they are trying to help those orphans that are not adopted. I'm very excited about this possibility for these children, check them out at! This is from their website:
We partner with families and the community to provide loving homes and support to orphans from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
In the event families wish to adopt, a licensed attorney volunteers legal services for US immigration purposes.
We recruit donations of material goods to provide housing, infrastructure, clothing, infant formula, supplies, educational materials and scholarships to orphans in DRC of all ages.

It was a long day, the trip was long, but I'm so so thankful I was able to go, now to work for these kids!

Oh, and yes, the home study is going well. Really a lot less stressful than we imagined it would be in the end!

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