Sunday, April 29, 2012

Making things better, and the resulting responsibility.

I just got a call from the director of the orphanage that he just received another baby, this one is a newborn whose mother died during birth.  So, instead of needing 17 sponsors ($25/month), we need 19.  It's a bit overwhelming honestly.

I went to the orphanage for the first time 2 years and 2 months ago.  There were three babies under age one years old.  Why?  Because though the orphanage was the only one that accepted babies in that area of eastern DRC (which is a HUGE area), it was also known as the orphanage where a lot of babies died because there wasn't enough formula or staff to care for them.  

Two years ago we made changes at the orphanage and we never stopped.  Now the orphanage is a place where people know they can send babies that would otherwise die (because their mothers have died and no way to keep them fed and alive had been found).  The word is out and now there are 17 babies under the age of one at the orphanage.

Two years ago, I knew I wasn't going to live in DRC forever.  We were looking to move that year actually (though it got pushed back another year).   When I first brought formula to the orphanage I expected that the women would use it all and so the next time I came (two weeks later) I brought more.  What surprised me was that they didn't use it all up, they continued to water it down, ration it out.  The babies and toddlers were still starving.  Why?  They didn't trust me to keep bringing it.  And rightly so.  Aid in eastern DRC can come in waves and it stops and starts.  It's not consistent.  I told them that day, and every day I visited afterwards, I would bring formula and I wouldn't stop.  The director had a dream to make the orphanage more sustainable.  I told him we would help.  And we helped him build a garden and a huge community of people around the world helped me bring that formula for the next year and a half.  And then I left.  And they told me, "Don't forget us. Don't forget the babies."

I haven't forgotten them, but it's scary and overwhelming.

Some folks have written asking me some questions.  I thought I would answer them briefly here.

1.  Where do the babies come from and how do they get there?  Babies are brought from all over the province by family members (and sometimes church members).  Most of the times they walk long distances to get the baby there.  Two babies have died shortly after arrival because they were sick and starving when they came.  One woman walked with twins for a week because she knew that they would die without milk.

2.  What happens after the family drops the baby off?  Do they visit?  Yes, most do visit.  The purpose of the orphanage originally (and still) is to be a safe haven for babies.  When the baby is age 1 to 5 years old the family comes back and gets the baby.  Most of the time this is after frequent visits, sometimes they rarely visit.  Most children are age 4 or 5 when they leave.  We would like to work on this so that most children go home under age 2 (more like age 6 months to one year if they are strong enough) to family members they know and recognize; we still have work to do.

3.  Do we get a tax donation slip?  Yes, you do, from Children's HopeChest.

4.  Do we get updates?  Yes, this is something we are working on, right now it's about every 4-5 months, though our goal is every 3 months.

What we are doing is family reunification and preservation.  We could do it better, that is clear.  We have a lot of work ahead of us.  But one of the most important things we have to do first is get to full monthly sponsorship so that the babies have enough formula.

It has been very clear to me from the beginning that I cannot and never have been able to do this alone. So, thank you for coming along side of us and helping us raise the funds to support these babies.

The previous post has photos of all the babies that need sponsors (except the newest baby).  Follow this link to donate and send me an email (hmulford at if you are choosing a sponsorship to let me know which baby you want to sponsor.  Thank you!

Feeding babies formula.  

Monday, April 23, 2012

Babies! New babies that need sponsors and pictures of growing babies!

***Update--please refer to this post for an update about which children still need sponsors and the new ones that have recently come to the orphanage.**

We need your help.  Have you thought about sponsoring a baby, but never have committed?  Do you know someone that would like to sponsor a child?  We have a BIG group of new babies up at the orphanage that need formula (about $80/month).  We are looking for sponsors for these new babies because we are the only ones that contribute formula to the orphanage.  (Other donors contribute food, and the basic needs for running an orphanage).

Sponsors contribute $25/month to the needs of the orphanage (we buy formula for the babies, fortified powdered milk for the bigger kids (age 1 and up), and we pay the salaries of 7 additional women to help hold, feed, and care for the babies.  We also have a manager on the ground that increases our accountability and transparency).   Aside from the transfer fees, all money goes on ground.  Our main goal is to give these little ones a chance at life after their mothers die, until they are old enough (usually b/w ages 1 and 5 years old) to return back to their families.

We believe in keeping families together.

Please consider helping support these little ones, or pass on this blog!  We need your help.  

Donate link is here (our 501c3 status is almost complete; until then, we are grateful to accept donations through Children's HopeChest).  Our website is here.  (And very soon all these links will be together at one spot.)  If you don't want to sponsor, a one time donation will help us until we are up to full sponsorship.  If you do want to sponsor one of these little ones, please let us know by either emailing through our website (here) or me directly (hmulford at  

And I wanted to say a very big thank you to all our current sponsors and those that have given one time donations.  Also a big thank you to those that have given monthly general donations to help meet the gap until we are fully funded.  YOU ARE ALL the reasons these babies are doing well.

Lukogo - Boy - 4 months (needs two sponsors one sponsor)

Mapenzi - Boy - 6 weeks (needs two sponsors Fully Sponsored!)

Esperance - Girl - 11 months (needs two one sponsor  Fully Sponsored!)

Esther - Girl - 11 months (already fully sponsored!)

Neema - Girl - 10 months (needs two sponsors Fully sponsored!)
Furaha - Girl -11 months (needs one sponsor Fully Sponsored!)

Mwamini - Girl - 11 months (still needs one sponsor)

Consolat - Girl - 11 months (needs two sponsorsFully sponsored!)

Mugisho - Boy - 1 year (fully sponsored!)

Francine - Girl - 13 months (Needs one sponsor.Fully Sponsored)

Nabuchi - Girl - 7 months (needs two one sponsor   Fully Sponsored!)

Marango- Boy - 19 months (needs two sponsorsFully sponsored!)

Bwinja - Girl - 6 months (needs two sponsorsFully Sponsored!)

Emile - Boy - 7 months (needs two sponsors Fully Sponsored!) 
I'll update this post as we get sponsors!  

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

working to make orphanages the best (and rarest) place for children

I've always had a pretty rosy picture of myself and the ways I would "help" in Congo before I moved there.  I wanted to work in an orphanage.  I wanted to hold babies and love on children.  I wanted to help make an orphanage a home, a real home for the children that were unfortunate enough to be living there.  I envisioned myself using my skills as a pediatric nurse and NP to help improve the medical care in the home, I would help improve the way the children were treated and loved.  I would organize fundraising and bring in donations from outside that would help make the orphanage a true home for the children with good food and well clothed and happy, healthy, educated children.  I would connect others with the orphanage and encourage visits.

You'll probably notice a lot of "me" in there.  Yup, it was all about me and what I envisioned for them and little about what their caregivers (or, um, their family members) wanted.  Perhaps you will think I'm being too harsh, because, I mean who doesn't want children in an orphanage to be healthy, happy, well-fed, loved and cared for?  Those are good things, right?  

Yes, they are, but they are not the best things.  They are not the best we can do for a child.  The best we can do for a child is a lot, a lot harder than only improving conditions in an orphanage.  The best we can do for a child is to move them out of the orphanage and into a family.  That is the best we can do.  An orphanage is not the place for a child, a family is the best place for a child.  A community of families caring for their children; that is the best place for a child.

Even the best orphanages harm children because they are institutions, they are not families.  

Do you know why I really believe in what we are doing at Tumaini?  You know those kids at the Save the Children orphanage?  They are on their way out!  Most of them have families that want them.   We provide temporary care for the children when their mother's die.  We would love it to be very temporary (like 6-9 months long), but there are some barriers we have to work on breaking down before that can happen, but it is a goal.  Right now children go home after 1-4 years.  Then we support them through school fees while they live with their families.  We give kids a chance, a chance at life, and then we give them a gift, being part of their families again.  It is hard work, but exciting and very rewarding.  It's reuniting children with their families, what could be better than that!?

Do you want to be a part of empowering work in orphan/vulnerable child care in DRC?  Are you considering helping an orphanage, building an orphanage, or sponsoring a child?  Consider broadening your vision of what you can do.  I have and it has changed my world.  It is possible.

I no longer want to make the orphanage the best place in the world.  I want to hire a social worker so we can achieve greater success in getting children out of the orphanage!  I want to figure out ways to help those babies thrive (for example, thank you to the lovely folks who sent us bumbos, so that the babies are sitting up by age 6-8 months instead of 18 months!!) so they go home healthy and able to live with their families, some that are in situations of extreme poverty.

Orphanages should be--
temporary places for children in crisis that need shelter
the last resort (every effort should be made to locate family members that can care for the child first)
a place where the community is involved
a safe place for a child (no abuse) where their need are met (including developmental needs)
a place to transition children back to their families (because most of the children can go back)
a place with consistent and trained staff with limited visits from outside visitors
not a place to only house children before they are adopted internationally (I do believe there is a place for IA, but only for those children where every other alternative for a family has been exhausted).

Firelight Foundation (Summary here)
Child's i Foundation (Please check them out! They are doing wonderful work!)
De-institutionalizing children.

Finally, you know the little girl with the incredible smile on the home page of our website?  Ziruka?  Guess what?  She went home to her family a month ago!!

And this little baby girl with the sweetest smile you have ever seen?  Noella?  Her dad came and got her last month too!  This is the best news I could get!  And when she came to the orphanage as a newborn (right after Christmas a year ago) she was given full strength formula and held often.  She has been healthy and was ready to go home thanks to everyone that has come along side us and helped us by formula, milk and hire extra staff.

Interested in contributing to our work?  Check out our website or feel free to email me (my address is above right top of the blog).  Thank you.