Tuesday, March 26, 2013

FAQ (and pictures of the little ones at the orphanage)

I thought I would put up a post about some of the basics about the orphanage we support in the form of Q&As.  And there will be photos of the babies and children who live at the orphanage as well, just to keep it fun.

Where is the orphanage?

The orphanage is in eastern DRC, in a territory called Sud Kivu.  It is in a mountainous region.  In fact, Bukavu itself is at an elevation of  4,900 ft and the mountains where the orphanage is located are even higher at 6500 ft (over one mile high)!  We have had visitors get altitude sickness when visiting the orphanage!  

What happens when the children get sick?  

The orphanage is located directly behind a large reference hospital.  It is a very good hospital in the area and the children are put in private rooms with their own nurse when they stay there.  They receive very good care, IV antibiotics if they need them, and testing as appropriate.  If they are too sick for the hospital to treat, they can go to Bukavu and seek care at the Panzi Hospital.  


What about water, isn't it unsafe to drink?

The village has their own source of water from a spring that is capped so it is very safe.  I would drink it "straight up" when I visited.  It is amazing water.  However, just to be extra cautious all the formula the babies drink is made from water that has been boiled as well.  I imagine this is why there is an overall lack of diarheal illness at the orphanage.


What about electricity, are they in the dark a lot?

The hospital (and the orphanage due to the location) operate on a hydroelectric power!  There is good electricity.  Pretty cool, huh?  


Who care for the children?

There is a very committed and loving group of women who care for the babies and children at the orphanage.  There is also a cook who has been there for over 40 years!  And another older man who sews clothes.  There is a night guard.  And a day guard/gardener.  In addition, the pastor that works in the hospital that comes and sings, prays, and teaches the children during the week.  The mamas have been caring for the children from many many years.  We did multiple trainings with them while we lived in DRC and often they would say, "don't forget us, pray for us as we love these children."  Right now there are 5-6 women caring for 40 children during the day.  We hope to increase this number.  


Is it hot?  Is it dangerous there?

No, it's actually very cool there, maybe because of the elevation and the location in the mountains.  I loved the weather there actually!  I never felt in ANY danger visiting the orphanage.  It is off the beaten path and not a place that sees conflict.  


Who are the fathers of the children? Are they soldiers?  Are the children victims of the war in eastern DRC?

Most of the fathers are poor farmers or miners.  Some don't have jobs and travel extensively to try to find a job to support their remaining family members.  Unemployment is very high.  The children are children of extremely poor families in eastern DRC, most in agriculture, making less than $1/day (formula costs $80/month/baby).  I suppose, on a broad level, anyone that is from DRC has been impacted by war.  The children lose their mothers to preventable diseases or preventable complications during birth, most of them die in childbirth. 


Who runs the orphanage?  Who are the donors?

The CELPA church of DRC runs the orphanage as well as the hospital, schools, clinics, and of course churches.  This creates a very strong community that supports the orphanage.  The babies are dedicated in the church and there are funerals for the babies that die.  The children are brought to church as well.  There are four donors that give funds to the orphanage.   Reeds of Hope has been involved with the orphanage since February 2010.  


 I stayed overnight a couple of times and honestly, really thought I could live there!  And in fact, there were Norwegian missionaries that raised their children in the village.  It is an incredibly beautiful place.  

Some of the babies listed on this post are in need of sponsors.  As soon as our new site is up, you will have the opportunity to sponsor them!  Thank you!

Summit 9

I'm not someone that wins contests, raffles, races, or anything that has a winner or loser.  In high school I was in Track and Field.  My very last meet (of my life) I ran my personal best on the 100m hurdles.  I was so excited!  I didn't win the race.  But I really didn't care because I had never run that fast before.  My coach came over and said he was sorry I didn't win.  That was it.  I was so angry.  I felt like yelling, "it's not all about winning!".  As you might guess, I was never on a team sport like basketball or volleyball (given I am almost 6 feet tall, that has always surprised people).  I just liked sports for the fun of it.  I never really played to win.  It's wasn't all about winning.  Well, it wasn't for me, but it sure is for a lot of people.   And honestly, there are just a lot of people out there that are better than me so I don't mind letting them shine!

That's my strange introduction for this post.  Because I am not entirely 100% settled about writing this post that is required to entire a competition I would like to win.  Yup, I admit it, I want to win.   So, I would like to go to this conference down in Nashville that is about orphan care.  We don't have any extra money to send me there, but I still want to go.  Because I am a part of supporting orphans and vulnerable children in eastern DRC.  I want to go and learn more and meet other people doing similar work.  I want to try to learn all I can as we try to expand our work to family reunification, resettlement and alternative care.  Now the orphan summit is a lot about adoption, which is great.  But I want to go specifically for the other workshops.  I want to go for this pre-conference workshop-- "Moving Forward: Transitioning, Transforming and Creating New Models of Orphan Care".  This is what we are trying to do with Reeds of Hope.  It is very hard and I really want to learn as much as I can from others that are doing this work, especially connecting with the local church as the orphanage we support is supported by the local church and they really care about the kids.    (There is also a pre-conference workshop by Karen Purvis I would love to attend, her book has really transformed how I parent as an adoptive parent).  And there are some other workshops I would love to attend as well about listening and learning from adult adoptees, and sustainable projects, and moving orphan care around the world (and deinstitutionalizing children).  So, I admit, I would love to be one of the winners of this giveaway.  (And there are probably plenty of others out there that also very much should win too! :)

This picture means a lot to me.  A group of wonderful people gave us the money to build a wall around the orphanage so they could not only keep small livestock and chickens to feed the children, but also grow an amazing garden from which they fed the children beans, corn, cabbages, and other vegetables.  

So, I am writing this post as a part of the Summit 9 Blogger Giveaway.  Check out the details at www.summit9.org.

***There is another giveaway going on here at Millions of Miles.  Please check it out.  Everyone is a winner because all the proceeds are given to Heartline in Haiti and JabuAfrica.  (And yes, ONE person does get to take home a fun vacation package :).***

Monday, March 25, 2013

Girl on Fire

I wrote a post a bit ago about one of our little ones and the pain she still struggles with every day (she is 3 1/2 years old and was brought home at 8 months old).  After I wrote the post, a friend reached out to me, someone who walks the same shoes that I do now.  She didn't write a lot, but what she wrote, encouraged me deeply.  She said I wasn't alone.  And that meant everything.

There are wonderful networks of parents of children that come from backgrounds of trauma all over the world.   You can't do it alone and they have figured that out.  Another set of amazing friends have been reaching out to me and trying to help me connect to one of these groups, for encouragement, for help, for support, and to maybe give me some more tools and ideas to help my little girl.  It's funny how I feel hesitant.  There are some blogs/forums I read, about those that fight so hard and courageously for their hurting children.  And I learn a lot.  But I also feel so, well guilty, that I have one little girl that struggles and I can't seem to find the patience, love, courage to help her like I should (because, well, I compare myself to those I am learning from and I think, their children are struggling even more than mine and I can't seem to figure out how to get past my frustrations and be a therapeutic parent).

The one word I could say sums up my parenting the last 1 1/2 since we have been home in the states is "humbled".  Over and over again, I fall flat on my face.  Humbled.  Over and over again, I admit that I need help and I can't do this alone.  Humbled.  Over and over again, I ask for advice and search for the  answers I don't have anymore.  Humbled.  Over and over again, I am impatient and make my little one cry in confusion.  Humbled.  Over and over again, I ask for forgiveness and the chance to try again.  Again and again and again.  Humbled.  Over and over again, I get on my knees and beg for mercy, grace, and love.  Humbled.

The friend that reached out to me, that told me I wasn't alone.  She also told me about a song.  Given that I am pretty clueless when it comes to anything that is even remotely popular or a part of, well, our everyday pop culture here in the states, I had no idea what it was.  It was a song by Alicia Keys called "Girl on Fire".  

After listening to it, I realized how much it really hit me in a deep way.  And it still does.  This weekend was a fairly trying on for our little one.  We had guests, she never had her naps, she went to bed late, we did new and different things all weekend.  Her behavior kept triggering and spiraling out of control. Last night when I was walking her around after a bad moment, trying to reach her in the place she had gone, and holding her close, I tried to keep the tears at bay.  But today, as we were driving, "Girl on Fire" came on and they fell without any attempt at stopping them, letting the pain free, giving it to God, and loving my girl on fire.   Seeing the beauty of my girl even in the pain, anger, the hurt, and the sorrow.

She's just a girl, and she's on fire
Hotter than a fantasy, lonely like a highway
She's living in a world, and it's on fire
Feeling the catastrophe, but she knows she can fly away

Oh, she got both feet on the ground
And she's burning it down
Oh, she got her head in the clouds
And she's not backing down

This girl is on fire
This girl is on fire
She's walking on fire
This girl is on fire

Looks like a girl, but she's a flame
So bright, she can burn your eyes
Better look the other way
You can try but you'll never forget her name
She's on top of the world
Hottest of the hottest girls say

Oh, we got our feet on the ground
And we're burning it down
Oh, got our head in the clouds
And we're not coming down

This girl is on fire
This girl is on fire
She's walking on fire
This girl is on fire

Everybody stands, as she goes by
Cause they can see the flame that's in her eyes
Watch her when she's lighting up the night
Nobody knows that she's a lonely girl
And it's a lonely world
But she gon' let it burn, baby, burn, baby

This girl is on fire
This girl is on fire
She's walking on fire
This girl is on fire

Oh, oh, oh...

She's just a girl, and she's on fire

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Sending them home...on foot

Two months ago I wrote this post about two little babies that died at the orphanage we support.  It's still hard to look at their photos.  I believe they are truly home now and filled with the love of God.

At the orphanage we support we have the dream of sending children to earthly homes filled with the love of a family.   We have a dream of giving them good quality short term "emergency" care while doing quality family assessments and comprehensive investigations to assess the readiness to take the babies home and also evaluate what barriers need to be overcome in order to reunite them with their families.  We have a dream of finding good quality long term "foster families" in eastern DRC to raise those children that can't be reunited with their families.  (Remember, in this area of DRC like other areas of Africa, "foster care" is similar to domestic adoption here in the states).  We have a dream that children will not linger years and years in an orphanage.  In fact, I wish that more and more orphanages were being shut down and more reunification programs were being implemented, so that more and more children could go back with their families.

(And yes, to all of you who read my blog and jump to the conclusion I am anti-adoption, I do believe international adoption is an option for those children that cannot be reunited with their families and for those that cannot be placed in long term domestic situations.)

I've written before about children moving home to their families.  Well, two more sweet little boys have gone back to their families.  I actually know nothing more than that.  I have shared before that it has taken us a long time to get to full sponsorship at the orphanage.  Now that we finally have gotten there we next need to focus on hiring a social worker and raising money for transport options (more to come on that in another post) for our manager to check on the children and their families.   You might wonder how the children are being reunited if we haven't formally been working in that area at the orphanage.  It's because almost all the children have been left in the orphanage by their fathers or other family members with the intent of coming back to get them; it is only a temporary place to help babies after their mothers die giving birth to them.  What we would like to do is get them back home sooner (why should they wait until they are 4 or 5 years old?).

I have some very precious photos of the two little boys who went home.  Christian and Janvier.   Two boys that I got to know well over the year and a half I visited the orphanage.

Christian and Janvier, 3 years ago

Christian, this is the look he would give me EVERY time I visited!
Christian, the only photo I ever got of him smiling.  Handsome!

The last day I ever visited the orphanage.  Janvier.  

Janvier, this past fall.  

Christian, this past fall. 

I'm so happy for these two sweet boys!  Our new website is almost ready to go live.  If you are considering sponsoring a child, especially an older child like Janvier and Christian that now live with their families, keep checking back here.  I will be announcing when it is up and there will be many sponsorship opportunities available.  Especially of all the amazing older children (77!) that we sponsor to attend school.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Stuck in an orphanage

There is a movie moving around the U.S.  I haven't seen it yet, I have only read what it is about.  I'm still reeling from the last movie I watched about adoption.

The title sticks with me.  Stuck.  From the synopsis on their website, the movie is about children stuck and waiting for families in the international adoption process.  Stuck without a permanent family situation.  Stuck.

I shared about the beginnings of the changing of my heart in this post and this post.  About how I felt a growing conviction that it was wrong to bring international adoptions to an orphanage without first offering family support and reunification to the extremely poor families of the children.  Did I ever stir up some controversy with those posts!  I don't regret writing them at all and I am continuing to study and learn about the subject (more to come on that in another post).

So, if you all have been following along, you know that we want to move the children at the orphanage back to their families sooner.  Orphanages harm children (this also seems to be a part of the Stuck film).  So, we want the orphanage we support to be a temporary home for babies until they are reunited with their families.  And I want to be a part of giving good quality care to those babies while they are there so there is no more harm done.

I don't want children stuck for years and years in the orphanage we support.  So, I have a sort of lofty dream.  I've been told it can't be done.  I've been told that it is unrealistic and children will still linger.  The great thing is that it is what the orphanage was set up to be in the first place.   A temporary place for babies to be given milk and then they would go back to their fathers when they were weaned.  The majority of families leave children at the orphanage intending to get them again.  And many have since I've been there.

But it needs to be done sooner and we need comprehensive home studies to make sure the children are wanted and that they have the support they need.  Doubtful still?  It is happening in other places in Africa.  It can be done.  And best of all the leadership of the orphanage believes in it too.

I don't want children stuck in orphanage waiting for their families to come and get them.  I believe in the alternative care model.  Which says, keep families together and prevent separation, then if they are separated, provide emergency care while you work to reunite the children with their families or with kinship care (this model is very very common and widespread in DRC).   If that can't happen, then domestic adoption (and yes this happens in DRC too).  And finally, international adoption.  Those children that cannot be place back in their families, in kinship care, or with a domestic situation deserve families too and that is where international adoption comes in.  Sounds great right?

You might be saying, there is nothing in place, what about the children stuck there waiting for the process to happen?  Great question!  What I am learning, is we can't do this alone.  We need support and others that believe in this model.  A model that works to move children back into families quickly and effectively.  I say quickly and I mean 6-9 months instead of 3 years.  (I don't mean overnight.).  And I say effectively because there needs to be a social worker hired, comprehensive family assessments need to take place, a support structure will need to be created, and trainings need to occur.  And we need a momentum of people behind us that support this work.  There is work to be done.

There needs to be support from all the donors of the orphanage.  There needs to coordination, cooperation, transparency, and accountability.  There needs to be a mutual belief in the model.  

It simply will not work otherwise.

This very sweet little girl is named Muholeza.  She is six years old.  

This photo of her was sent to me today.  
She is one of the oldest children at the orphanage.  And she is stuck.  There has been no rapid assessment framework at the orphanage.  Her father is handicapped.  I don't know if he can take care of her or not.  I don't know how severe of a handicap he has.  Maybe he can take care of her with some support.  Maybe he has another family member that can take care of her.  I just don't know because we don't have anything in place to really assess her family situation.  So, she lives year after year at the orphanage.  What if when she came to the orphanage the model was in place already? What if we did a rapid assessment on her family situation?  What if we learned that her father needed a handicapped bike and then he would have a profession and be able to support his family?  What if we got him that bike?  And then she moved home by one year old?  What if?  Or, we could have found out he didn't want to raise her or it was a unsafe situation.  We could have tried to find a kinship care placement.  Or we could have found a domestic placement.  Then we could have looked at international adoption.  Whatever way you look at it, she would have been in a family and not stuck in an orphanage for years.

I also received another photo today as well.  What will we do for this sweet little one?

Saturday, March 16, 2013

why nothing may mean everything

I was talking with a friend over the last couple days about independent 3rd investigations (to make sure that your child you are adopting is one that needs a family and to learn more about their family and story).  We were talking about the reasons why it is so important.  The conversation made me remember why I started down this path of advocating for ethical adoptions in DRC in the first place.  I think one of the most important reasons was because of my girls.

I had started reading a lot of writings by adult adoptees at the time we were adopting (living in DRC).  I was a bit blown away by what I read.  I was struck by the pain in a lot of the posts (the loss and trauma that comes with international adoption and especially when there is nothing known about the stories, lack of investigations or effort at reunifications, hidden stories, falsified documents, false information, no way to find first families, coercion of first families, or extreme poverty that contributed to breaking a family apart that would have otherwise stayed together, among many other things)  and by the lack of understanding in general by the broader world of adoptive parents of the need for adoptees to know their entire story (not just from the start of when they were adopted).   I think I had ignorantly and naively sort of accepted a lot of what I heard about adoption.  I didn't think much further beyond the fact that adoption was good and helped children have families.

Then I started to see and experience the problems with adoption in DRC because of the lack of infrastructure, levels of corruption, lack of enforcement of laws to protect children from exploitation, and the power of money.  All of this combined to form a compelling argument that we needed to do everything we could to make sure the children we were adopting really did need a home (and weren't being taken from families that wanted them) and that we weren't participating in corruption in any way.

And then I very strongly felt that just as important as the adoption being ethical was getting as much information as I could about their lives and their family while we lived in DRC.  I kept thinking of them as adults and wondering what they would want to know.  I kept reading adult adoptee writing and learning (and feeling very humbled).   I kept learning how very important it would be for them to know their whole story, especially the beginnings, the roots, their first family, the reasons why they were being adopted.

Now, I sort of wonder how I ever questioned how important that would be to them.  Even now, when they are so young, it comes up all the time.  About how they have two mommies, they bring me to the photo of their mom often, to make sure I know that she is their mommy too.  I think of how it means something deep and important to them now, and how much it will mean through the years.

Back to my conversation with my friend.   We started talking about the question of what if they do all the work for an investigation and learn nothing more than they already know (given they have very little information at all).  We started talking more about what that "nothing" might mean to their child one day.  Now, from all my reading I have learned that some adoptees never search.  So, my girls and her child might be one of those adults.  But, what if they aren't?  What if they want to know about their past, about their first family, about why they were abandoned, about who their family was before they were adopted?  What if it is a deep need to find answers, to find their first families, and there is deep pain that we as their adoptive parents didn't search out the information for them while the information might have been found?

We talked about what we might find on investigation.  Maybe we would find family that we can stay connected with through the years.  Maybe we would find that the child didn't need a family through adoption because they already had a family that wanted them and didn't know about the adoption.  Maybe we would learn more about their family health history that might make all the difference to them one day in the future?  Maybe would find out that they have older siblings.  Maybe we would find out that were very good reasons adoption was necessary.  Maybe we would find the evidence that showed that indeed our children did need a family.   Maybe we would be able to find out the answer to "why did they give me up for adoption"?

And maybe they have the right to know.  That it is the right thing to do.  That we all have the right to know about our past, our story, our family.  

But, maybe we would go through the process of investigation and feel like it was pointless.  Maybe the search would bring no more answers than we already had at time of referral.  Maybe we would learn nothing.  Would it still be worth it?  We started talking more, that even then, what if it IS still worth it?  What if that "nothing" we found on that investigation meant "everything" to our kids one day, because it meant that we tried our hardest for them because we knew it was so important for them to know their story and their past, because it would help them know themselves more and help them grapple with part of the pain that comes with families created from the pain of losing your first family, that perhaps in the knowing there can be the beginning of healing.  


Interested in reading more from the experts on adoption (certainly not me!)?   The experts are those that have been adopted.  Start here.  Amanda has so many excellent posts and resources on her blog.  This post is a very good place to start (please read this post, it is SO good and important).  And here is another great blog.  The Rileys in Uganda have had a wonderful guest series of posts on their blog from adult international adoptees.  Find one of them here.  There are so many more.  Rather than list them all, I thought that you could add those voices you have learned from in the comments so I could benefit too.

Interested in 3rd party independent investigations?  Please contact me (email top right of blog).

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


I wasn't expecting to post on this tonight, and it will be raw.  In fact, I have been avoiding watching this film for some time after I first started seeing folks mention it on facebook.  I started crying within the first minute and didn't stop until it was over 1 1/2 hours later.  I had the sense that it would break me even more than I already feel over international adoption.

I believe children desperately need families.  I believe adoption is one way that children find families.

Watching Masho's parents give her for adoption, why this did so, and their growing sense of betrayal and grief over their utter helplessness once the truth of what adoption meant in their children's case and once they realized they were not dying, was completely and utterly heart wrenching.  Watching the struggle of the new parents to try to help little Masho was agonizing, especially the erroneous help they received from experts.

But most of all, little Masho broke me.   Masho.  Mercy.  Masho who was four years old and taken away from her parents because of their decision that was made when they felt like they were dying and the recruitment and pressure of an agency and the false information that they were given that they would have a relationship and support from their new family, that they would hear from them regularly.  Masho who was the age of my little girl, Isla.  A strong courageous child.  Nothing was her fault, yet in the end she was the one most hurt by good intentions of all who loved her.  I sobbed and sobbed. I sobbed a mother's grief and pain.   When Masho's mother yelled that she had sold her children, from her womb, that maybe if she killed herself in front of the door of the adoption agency, someone might hear her story, owning a desperate decision when she thought she was dying soon and told promises that never were realized, trusting her children to a new family and never knowing that her daughter now lives in an institution-how can I hold that pain back.

Please watch this film.  (Or found here).  There may not be anything you feel you can relate to in the film .  There may be parts that are familiar.  There may be truths you have never heard or thought of before watching this story.  I still believe in adoption.  I don't believe in adoption like this.  Masho and this film will haunt me.  Just like the other stories I know will stay with me and urge me to keep speaking the truth.

Others speak the truth as well.  And say it better.  I think there is a growing movement to not let Masho's story be the story of the child we are adopting.  I think more and more people understand we cannot let ourselves believe we are passive when it comes to international adoption or that we have no role in the corruption that can occur in international adoption.  We all have a responsibility.  We all have a role to play in protecting vulnerable children like Masho, beautiful Masho.  And we all have a role in helping to prevent the pressures that pushed her family apart in the first place.

I believe in adoption when a child needs a family.  Masho didn't need a family.  She had one.  What if instead of adoption as the way to give their children education, security, a better life, the family had been offered something different?  Something radical.  Something that changes their family, their community, their village.  What if the lies and deceptions that were told to them had been instead the truth?  What if the adoptive family knew the truth about the family situation, the love for the children, the strong bond and attachment of the children to their parents?  What if they had been given better support, education, resources to help Masho?

These are all "what ifs" that we can be a part of changing for others who are adopting, for ourselves as we adopt.  One can watch this film and walk away devastated, disgusted, and despairing of adoption.  Or one can walk away passionate about protecting vulnerable children and their families and supporting them.  One can walk away committed to helping families stay together.  One can encourage and support adoptive and foster parents as they parent children from trauma and loss.  One can reach out and ask for support and help if they are parenting a child that is struggling.  One can help those children that truly need a family find a family, and those that don't need a family find the support they need to stay in their family.

We can believe in both, be passionate and committed to both.  We can work together to protect children like Masho and their families.  We can work to support families like the one that adopted Masho and her brother, who tried to parent a very hurting child.  We can work hard so that the end of the story in this film, Masho living in an institution, her first parents devastated and grief stricken, and her adoptive parents feeling like they had no choices left, isn't the ending of the story for the children we adopting, fostering, caring for, advocating for, and helping.  We are not helpless.  We have a voice, we have power to make change happen, and we can protect the vulnerable and reach our hand out to the suffering.  Let your voice be heard.  Be bold and be courageous.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013


I dug out some photos of the school aged children that the director of the orphanage had taken for me when we were in DRC.  The photos are 2 years old.  Many of the children that are in the photos are still the children we are sponsoring today.  I spent a long time looking at their faces tonight, matching numbers with names.  I also spent some time looking for statistics about school and DRC.  Here is what I found (the source is IRC and the link to the report is found here).

Primary school enrollment - 58%
Drop-out rate in the first year of primary - 20%
Children in the east who have never been in a classroom - 31%
Average completion rate between the first and sixth year - 29%
Government budget earmarked for education - 9%
Unpaid government teachers - 33%

I've been looking at these numbers.  58% of all children are enrolled in primary school.  29% of those enrolled complete their sixth year.  My husband is the (almost) economist and would be able to give you a more exact interpretation of this, but for me, I read that and it hits me that if most of those children that complete their sixth year of school do go on to secondary school, the enrollment rates in secondary school are less than 20%.  Wow, that is heartbreaking.

And then I think, more than half of the fees we have been raising are for secondary school.  And it hits me all over again, how very important these fees are for these children.  They are essential.

Finally, I look at their pictures.   And I am haunted by their eyes; there are stories waiting to be told, stories waiting for someone to share them.  There is pain and hope.  This work is so important, because THEY are so important; giving a child a chance to complete their education is an incredible  gift with lasting effects.

One of the school children we supported 2 years ago.

Thank you for helping us pay the fees of the 77 children that we support.  We have almost raised the entire amount needed to send them to school for the next trimester.  Only three more students need their fees paid.  They are all in secondary school.  (Their fees range from $67.3 to $39.3).  Any funds we raise above this trimester's needs will be applied to next trimester (which will be coming in a coming in a couple months).  Thank you again.  You can donate here or through using the button on the right side of this blog.  

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

who matters?

The last three days have been humbling and encouraging.  I never anticipated the overwhelming support the school kids would receive when I first put the need out there.  In three days, you have paid the trimester fees for 71 children (primary and secondary students).  There are only 6 children (all in secondary school, fees $22.3-$67) left that still  need their fees paid!  About a month or two ago, I had a discouraging period when I started questioning our work and what we were doing.  Even though I think that is normal in any project for there to be concerns (and hence discouragement), especially in such a challenging context as eastern DRC, I think I forgot "who" in the midst of the "what".  

These 77 students matter.  As the funds have been coming in over the past three days, I have been listing their names off.  Who are they?  I wrote names like Neema (grace), Safari (journey), Aksanti (thank you), Mapendo (beloved), and many more.  They matter.  Everyone of these students matter tremendously.  I'm so humbled that I am one of many of all of you that are sending them that message when we send their school fees, "you matter, you are important, you deserve to go to school, you are important, you are not forgotten, you are loved."  

Thank you for supporting the children of eastern DRC by helping them attend school.  It makes a difference in their lives.  If we raise any funds over the amount we need for this trimester we will apply it for the next trimester in the spring (I know, in my first post, I said this was the final trimester...somehow my American brain didn't wrap my head around trimesters (3 of them) and instead went with semesters!).  

Thank you again.  You can donate through the button on the right side of the blog or here.  

Monday, March 4, 2013

Those who deserve an education and those who do not

I wanted to repost something I wrote in 2011 while I was living in DRC after visiting one of the small schools in the same village where the orphanage is located.  We went there because some of the children we had been supporting with school fees attended the school (and some still do).

I thought that this post from years ago was very applicable to our efforts of raising school fees as they  are some of the stories of the lives of orphans/vulnerable children in eastern DRC.  Please consider donating to the school fees of the children who have moved out of the orphanage we support and back to their families.  We started out needing fees for 77 children, and we now need fees for 25 (all 12 are in secondary school and fees average around $25/trimester depending on the school the child attends)!  I am amazed and humbled.  Thank you so much for giving and for sharing!  There is a donate button on the right of the blog or you can donate directly here.

Here is some of that post---

"  There is a lot of information about orphans out there (check out UNICEF for a first starting place).  This post is not going to be about statistics or other information you can find elsewhere.  I want to write about stories I have heard from people here about their experiences and beliefs, talks I've had with friends or others that work in orphan care, or children I have seen and visited at their homes (whether orphanages or foster/family homes).  

I visited a small school at the end of last year in the same village where the orphanage is located.  It was started by the Mwami's wife (mwami means "king") and at first only accepted girls with the goal of elevating the education level of girls.  Eventually, it accepted boys and girls and has about 60 plus students.  I think it is a fairly normal school (a bit nicer actually).   The children did a recitation for us about different things.  At one point, the "orphans" were asked to come forward and do a recitation for us.  It was quite eye opening in many ways to me.  Most of what they recited was something along the lines of this,

"We are orphans.  
We don't deserve the things that other children deserve.  
We must work for our clothes.
We must work for our shoes.
We must work to go to school.
We must work hard when we are at school.
We don't deserve these things.
We must work for them. 
We must work for our food.
We must earn our bed.
We must earn our place.
We don't deserve these things.  
We do not have a mother.
We do not have a father.
We are orphans."

The children reciting.

And the kids said it all so matter-of-fact.  It was heart breaking.  "We don't deserve these things because we are orphans."  It was simply a fact of life they were reciting.  They weren't asking for anything.  They were just telling us.  This is how it is, we must work hard to deserve to go to school, to deserve to have food to eat, a place to sleep, clothes on our body.  They don't deserve any of it because of forces outside of their control.  Tragic circumstances that they had nothing to do with causing, turned the course of their lives.  

We have a friend here who identifies herself as an orphan.  She is an adult woman with a family.  Her mother had many problems with mental illness and so could not care for her.  Her father abandoned them.  She was sent to live in homes of family members.  She tells harrowing stories of the life of an orphan moved from home to home.    She was exactly this.  She worked from home to home.  And was not treated well.  Most orphans are not sent to school.  She is now an adult with her own children.  She also has orphans in her home.  She has determined not to treat them like how she was treated.  She sends all the children to school, half in the morning and half in the afternoon.  They all work together in the home.  

I have visited orphan care groups here and in the surrounding areas.  They serve orphans who live in homes but are suffering from neglect.  These care groups are run by local congolese women and men who feed them porridge twice a week and try to do a little school.  There are 1000s of children that are served in such a way.  It is humbling.  

Once, I was at a wedding and we were sitting next to an older couple.  We started talking.  They were interested that we had adopted two children from here and they were so happy we had done so.  They told their story.  How they had six children of their own, but then then took in six orphans as well (distantly related).  Instead of the normal way to treat orphans, they sent all the kids to school.  Then they sent the kids to secondary school.  Now they are sending some to university.  They talked about the children the same way they talked about their own children.  "

Sunday, March 3, 2013

"Holly, what happened?"

I've decided to commit to posting every day until I raise the school fees for this trimester.  Why?  Because it really is my fault that there is a two week deadline to raise them.  I was asked a lot yesterday, "Holly, what happened?  Didn't you know about the school fees before now?  Since they are three times a year?".  Yes, I did.  There is a very long back story to why I posted the need to raise the money now (instead of two months ago), but in the end, it's my fault.  So here I am.  Sending out a last minute plea to raise the funds.

One of the reasons that this happened so late is that I was overly optimistic that at the beginning of the year we would have updated photos of the children with their basic bios along with our new website (which is going to integrate a program for sponsoring to make everything more streamlined).  Before this happened we needed the info on the children.  Well, in order to get the information we needed to send our manager on the ground to visit all the kids.  They go to 27 schools spread all over the place and we simply do not have the funds to pay for his transport.  So, we have been relying on the lists of names, school, and year in school (along with specific fees) I receive three times a year.

I've been working with a friend that wants to help move our system of raising school fees into a more streamlined comprehensive approach with good follow up of the children.  I'm all for it!  We need our website up (this month is it!).  AND we need transport for the manager (more to come on that in the days ahead).  Then we will make a yearly sponsorship rate and we will have updates on all the children that will be given to the sponsors.  And we will be monitoring how they are doing.

I'm really excited about this, because I really truly believe in giving children education.  I really believe it is essential for any chance of moving out of extreme poverty.  I believe it is a basic human right.  And I believe that it is one barrier for families that prevent them from taking their children back into their homes again after they have lived in the orphanage.

Do you want to help children move out of orphanages and back with their families?  Do you want to give a child hope?  Help pay their school fees.  It is simple, it is inexpensive (for example, it costs $20 to pay the trimester fees for one of the primary students on my list today), and it will not only give the child a chance at a different life,  it is one very important way to give them a family and a future.  

small village school

Yesterday, I posted we needed to raise $1400.   Because of the generous donations we received yesterday, now we need to raise $1200.  Please consider a one time donation to help us raise these funds, the razoo donate button is on the right side of the blog.  Thank you for giving and sharing.  

Addendum:  Here is the link to the razoo donation page.  

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Urgent funding needed (first of two emergent needs)

For the past 2 1/2 years or so we have funded the school fees for the 80 (sometimes more) children that have moved out of the orphanage (at age 3-6 years old) and back with their families (or who are in foster care).  These children would not otherwise be sent to school.  Being called an "orphan" (a loose term in that area meaning you lost your mother/parent) means that you often are on the lower end of the priority list when the children in the home are sent to school.  Keep in mind that families in this area of DRC are extremely poor, most are farmers, some are miners, some have no jobs (unemployment rates are very high).  The amazing thing is that because of the Norwegian missionaries commitment to the children that lost their mothers, children for years and years have been sent to school that otherwise would not be sent to school.  Their funding slowed about 5 years ago and 3 years ago we got involved to help meet the gaps in funding.

Funding school fees is something I really believe in for children that are vulnerable and orphaned.  I feel like the ability to go to school can transform a child's life.  Some of the children we are funding are even in the local colleges (going to programs like nursing)!  This is a very exciting project and it is SO important.

We have never had regular funding for school fees (we will be setting up a better structure for this in the upcoming year).  Amazing people have come alongside of us and every trimester the money has come.  Except this one.  So, I putting a plea out there to everyone that reads this blog and to all that care about helping vulnerable children in eastern DRC.  Would you consider any one time donation to help us raise the $1400 we need over the next two weeks to send the children to school (their last trimester of funding)?  If you would like a detailed list of all the children's names and what grades they are in (as well as the exact breakdown of schools and fees) please email me.  For privacy reasons, I won't be posting that information here.

For ease of donations, I'm including a razoo donation button on the right side of the blog.  All donations are tax deductible.  If you don't feel like you can donate, would you be willing to pass this post along to help us raise the fees?  Thank you so much!