Saturday, May 5, 2012

Defending the cause of the motherless

All the children at the Save the Children orphanage have lost their mothers, most in childbirth.  And in their country they are called orphans.   They are not really orphans.  They have families.  They have fathers. They have aunties.  They have grandmothers.

Imagine for a moment you are that baby in congo.

When you lose your mother in Congo there are few left to defend your cause.  Because you lost your mother.  You lost the one that would have carried you on her body from the moment you left her womb.  She would have wrapped you in 20 blankets to make sure there was no possibility you would have been cold.  You lost your mother, who would have breast feed you despite her own malnourished body.  You lost your mother who would have wrapped you tight on her back, where her heart beat is still close.  You lost your mother who would have made sure you got fed, if there was food to be had.

You lost your mother and your father is lost in grief and the idea of caring for a squalling hungry newborn is completely overwhelming and frightening without his wife.  There are realities of being poor in eastern DRC that cannot be ignored even when you mourn and wail.  Perhaps your father does his best.  He tries.  Your aunties try.  Your grandmother tries.  But you grow weaker and weaker from hunger and malnourishment.  They do the only thing they can to give you a chance at life.  They walk a long distance and leave you in the care of strangers.  At a place surrounded by green misty mountains.  Where they are promised there is milk and that you will be okay.  They whisper words of love, they still mourn the death of your mother and the walking away from you is another painful rip and severing of a family.  A grief that they couldn't avoid.  They walk away and you cry.  They walk away.  They cry.  They promise to return.

Time goes on and they do return.  At first they come often, once a month.  They are so happy you are doing well.  They can't take you back yet.  The father has no way to feed you.  He is in a mining town working all hours.  He sends money back to his village when he cans, sometimes he doesn't do that.  He visits again a few months later.  He calls the director to check on you.  He loves you, but cannot take you.  He gets married again.  He comes less often.  Pretty soon it has been a year.  And another year.  And another.   And there is no one left to defend your cause.

This is a model of orphan care that I would love for the orphanage we support to practice.  The kids have families.  We know who they are, but the longer the children are at the orphanage the harder it is to place them back with their families.  There are many reasons for this but I think a big one (and overlooked one) is bonding and a reciprocal feeling of need.  It is when a father (or other family member) doesn't recognize or know their child anymore the child becomes like a stranger to them.  The child may run away when they visit or cry when they try to hold them.  Also, when the father gives up his child to the care of the orphanage he is acknowledging he can't care for the child.  After time the orphanage provides that child's basic care.  The child is well cared for (to some extent) and no longer needs the father and the father also may feel like he can't care for the child the same way as the orphanage did.

There are so many negative effects from long term institutionalization of children.  No matter how well you give care (and we still have a long way to go in that area even!).  I strongly believe we need to keep the children in the orphanage for one year or less.  And that the only way to do this is by training and hiring a social worker on the ground to work with us to do strong family support, education, training and follow up.  It's hard work.

How can we get to this very important next step?  We have to get our basic monthly funding set up.  We need sponsors for all the children at the orphanage so we have enough formula to be able to feed the children.  That is a basic need we have to meet.  Then we can work on improving that year spent in the orphanage at the same time as hiring a social worker to work with families.

What makes a child a true orphan in my mind?  When that little baby from above is rejected by  his or her existing family and become unwanted.  That is the second tragedy that occurs in that child's life.  We want to prevent that from happening.  We want to keep families together.

Please consider sponsoring one of the remaining children (or giving a one time donation).  And please pass on this blog.   Please consider defending the cause of the motherless.  Thank you!

The baby on the right in this photo, Noella, went home to live with her father at one year old. 

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