8 Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
for the rights of all who are destitute.
9 Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy.
Proverbs 31:8-9 (NIV)
I've always felt that everyone has a voice and a story. Even the most desperately poor and vulnerable. But that sometimes it isn't heard or there are circumstances that prevent us from hearing them or even them from speaking. I think the little ones we serve are those that need us to speak up for them.
|Akonkwa, age 2|
One of the most urgent and pressing convictions I felt when I was in DRC visiting the orphanage was that the babies, toddlers, and preschoolers need their families. They shouldn't be growing up in an orphanage. We can bring formula and we can hire women to care for them, but in the end, what they need most urgently of all is a loving family.
As a reminder, ALL the babies are brought to the orphanage by either a family member, a church member or a friend of the family. These are not babies that have been abandoned on the road and found without any history or known family. Most of the babies are brought to the orphanage by family members that cannot afford formula and are in a desperate situation. Most families drop their babies off planning to come get them again.
|Safari (smiled most of our visit), 8 months old|
Why don't they get them sooner? Well, I don't have all the answers for that. But I can imagine a couple of them. The biggest reason I believe is that we have nothing in place that helps them get them back sooner! At the orphanage the children get three meals a day, they get milk, they get meat, and they have health care and are taken to church. They have clothing and beds. They live in a secure compound. In essence, from a physical standpoint they lives are better than their life at home. Right now, we are basically caring for their children and hoping something changes in their life that would bring them just a little out of extreme poverty so that they feel like they can care for their child. This is the vital work we want to do; working with vulnerable families that are in crisis so they can keep their children.
But their children are not forgotten. Their families still visit and check on their children if they live within a days walk away. Other families may call the director. After being involved at the orphanage for 3 years, I can say that most families pick up their children at around 2 years old.
Another reason that I think is a barrier is that the father hasn't remarried. If he hasn't remarried it is likely the rest of his children are being cared for by someone else in his family or that he is getting help from others in caring for them. Many fathers wait to marry again and then come get their child. And you need money to get married. Most families are desperately poor who bring their children to the orphanage.
Also, I believe that lack of bonding and perceived lack of dependence prevents families from picking up their child. Visits are infrequent by those families that live far away. Which means that when they do visit their child may react to them as they would a stranger. His or her needs are being met by the orphanage (for the most part). The child doesn't "need" their father, he is not bonded with the child (as much as he may love the child) and the child is not bonded to him.
|Anipa (sitting), one year old|
This may sound daunting. And it is! But I firmly believe that children should be with their families. And within a year of initial arrival at the orphanage (ideally 6 months). The orphanage should be more like an emergency short term baby home. This is the work I passionately believe in. (And yes, at times, I am very overwhelmed by the work required and the challenges we face).
Now, I realize, immediately there will be those reading this that will say, "But Holly, what about those children that cannot go back to their families???". There will be those children. There are two children at the orphanage right now that are 6 years old. (Of note, we recently had a dad come and pick up his son who was 5 1/2 years old.) First, I will say, I firmly believe children belong with their families and that there is another long post that will explain more about how we envision overcoming some of the barriers that prevent the families from caring for their children. Second, I firmly believe that if they cannot be placed back with their families then alternative in-country care should be found. Most families in Congo are caring for orphans. Most families in Congo are caring for children who lost either their mother or their father. Every family I knew while we lived there had a child in their home that they cared for that wasn't their child by birth (imagine if that was the case in the U.S.!). And we know a lot of loving, caring, incredible Congolese people. Long term family placements can be found. And third, I do believe in a role for international adoption, but I really feel like few children will need it if we do number one and number two well.
|Claude, 10 months old|
So, here (briefly) are our current priorities--
1. Meet our monthly budget that enables us to provide quality (short term) care.
2. Family assessment that will guide our planning as we work toward family reunification (or alternative care).
3. School fees, notebooks and uniforms for the 80 children we support every year. (Much more on this important work soon.)
4. Raise funds for a motorcycle so our staff can check on and visit the children we support after they leave the orphanage.
5. Training and capacity building of our staff.
Right now, we need our monthly budget met so we can move to number two. We have to make sure we have enough funds to feed the babies in our care. Right now, we do that by monthly sponsorships. We have some children that need sponsors. Do you want to join us in our work by sponsoring a child? Or would you like to give a monthly contribution that will support our work?
All the children pictured and named in this post need sponsors. A sponsor can either fully sponsor a child ($50/month) or partially sponsor a child ($25/month).
Consider joining us as we work in eastern DRC. It will not be easy, we will need courage, wisdom, and the grace of God. We also need the support of others that care for the vulnerable children of eastern DRC. Please visit our website www.reedsofhope.org to donate (or donation buttons on the side of this blog). Thank you!