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.  

1 comment:

mary Hoyt said...

Wow, great news about Ziruka and Noella!!! Has anyone had a chance to follow up with them to see how it's going at home?