Saturday, August 31, 2013

What we do matters. How we do it matters.

Most of you who follow my blog or read it regularly know I feel strongly that children belong in families.  Yet, we (at Reeds of Hope) support an orphanage.  And orphanages harm children. 

Most of you know that we provide formula for little ones like this baby, Samuel.


And we provide fortified powdered milk for children like this sweet little girl, Bwinja.


We also pay the salaries for more women to care for the babies and older children.

We help to support an orphanage along with three other donors.  We do a lot of good.  We are a part of keeping babies alive after their mothers die.  We help provide women to hold them when their mothers cannot.  We help prevent starvation and death.  We meet children and their families in a time of crisis. 

It is not enough.  

Why?  Because we support an orphanage and orphanages harm children.  Because children belong in families, not in orphanages.  And most of all, because all of the children that are brought to the orphanage we support have families.  Babies are brought there in a most of crisis to prevent death.
Almost all of the families intend to come back and get their children.  

What does this mean for us?  

It means that what we do matters.  It matters that we make sure we are a part of moving children out of the orphanage and back into their families.  That they spend as little time as possible in the orphanage.  That they are given the emergency care they need to get healthy and strong and then they are transitioned back to their families as soon as possible (with thorough social work/church/community support).    

It means that how we do this matters.  It matters that we aren't just sending formula to eastern Congo.  It's not enough to only feed children and prevent starvation.  It matters that we are a part of bringing families back together and uniting them again.  It matters that for those that can't be reunited with their families, that we find alternative care (yes, domestic adoption/long term foster care) that is reflective of cultural norms of caring for orphaned and vulnerable children in eastern DRC.  (Please check back tomorrow for a post about such a family in eastern DRC). 

Our mission statement reads that we are about bringing hope to children in eastern DRC.  How do we do that?  We don't leave them in their cribs believing that they are not loved.   We don't leave them without a mama or a baba to hold them and comfort them.  We don't just bring formula and milk.  We work with courage to bring families back together.  And we send children to school that wouldn't otherwise be sent to school.  We bring hope. 

I want to end on linking to a post that was written by the director of the Abide Family Center in Uganda that works at keeping families together.  Please, take the time to read it.  She says, so much more eloquently than me, where our hearts should be as we care for orphans and vulnerable children and challenges us saying, 
We excuse the removal of the child from the family because the family is poor.
And we mistake poverty for families not loving their children.
We cannot be complacent in our care for orphaned and vulnerable children in eastern DRC.  We must work to strengthen families and meet them in moments of crisis to prevent separation.  We must work to bring families back together when they have been torn apart and work to moving children out of orphanages.  We cannot forget that hope is rarely found in an orphanage, no matter how much formula we bring or mamas we hire.  Hope is found in the love and care of a family and in the love of God.  Thank you for joining us in this vision and passion for bringing hope to the children of eastern DRC.   

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

"You have lived!"

The post below is reposted with permission by THINK.WRITE.ACT.  

Please find the original post here

Expectant mothers at a village maternity waiting home.

This is a special request blog, on birth and motherhood in Congo, in comparison to the US of A and the rest of the world.

I should preface this by saying that I am not a mother, and have never experienced childbirth so this is purely observation! Slap me if I get things wrong, verbally only please.

For women who are pregnant in rural Congo, life does not change much. It is not a celebratory occasion in the way that it is in the developed world. This may be different for wealthier families, or women in more urban parts of the country, but in the villages, pregnancy is just another day. Most women interchange between being pregnant and breastfeeding. The average Congolese woman, has an average of over 5 children in her lifetime.

And so, for pregnant Congolese women, life continues on as normal, there is no break in the field or household work. In most villages, women are not able to, and do not seek prenatal care. Its very often not available, and if it is, it is usually too expensive to go to a doctor, especially for something preventative like a prenatal checkup.

When the big day comes, it is usually by surprise, since for most village women, it is almost impossible to accurately gauge a due date, particularly if they haven’t had any prenatal appointments and have no knowledge on their menstrual cycles. If she has however, and she knows when her baby will be born, and she can afford it, she will usually find her way to the nearest clinic beforehand. This can be on foot, lifted ahead on a table or wooden chair by the men in her family, via motorcycle, or if she is quite well-off, a rented taxi. The woman who is fortunate enough to do this, will then wait, typically at a waiting home, which in most cases is a shack with mattresses, with other expectant mothers, waiting to give birth.

For the woman, unable to go to a clinic like this however, which is the majority of rural Congolese women, it is the local traditional attendant who comes to help her birth her child. Traditional attendants, will walk at night with little torches to the house where the mama is, she moves quickly, determinedly and quietly.

Once there, she can get to work, if she does not have tools, which is often the case, they will use whatever is available. The mama is laid on the ground, sometimes on a piece of kanga, there’s no time to wash it or make sure it is clean.

There is no epidural for the mama giving birth, typically no soothing husband’s voice or hand, there is only that moment in time, and the urgency that it brings.

Once the baby is born, the cord is cut with a kitchen knife, that is sometimes, sometimes not, boiled. He or she is wrapped, but then taken away, because they think the mother is too tired to hold the child. (In our training, we explain that the first thing should really be skin to skin contact between the mother and child, excited to see if they have been doing it yet.).

The next day is usually when the mother sees her child, and the harrowing process is complete.
For other women though, this can be completely different. As many as 15% of women experience complications during childbirth, and without access to proper antenatal care, this percentage risk is greatly increased.

There is no emergency room to take a woman to when she needs a C-section or some sort of emergency procedure and there is usually no doctor on call to come help.

For the woman who is experiencing a complication, she must endure the travel, whether on foot, or carried overhead by family members or friends to the nearest facility. The travel can be anywhere from an hour to a day or more long, depending on their location.

Countless women and babies die on the way, or once they arrive, having lost too much blood or been in distress for an extended period of time.

This is the plight of the majority of rural women in the DRC and other countries around the world.
Pregnancy is a scary thing for anyone anywhere, but it is even more so, in countries like the DRC, where the basic things you need to reduce that risk, are not present, or are unreachable.
It is no wonder that the congratulations in many Congolese villages, for women after giving , is “You have lived!”.

The great thing about this situation, is that is changeable. Significant successes in reducing maternal mortality can be achieved in the Democratic Republic of Congo, through simply ensuring that women have access to primary health-care. What does this look like? Well, starting with ensuring that there is an equipped health-center within reasonable reach, what is the point of a center far away from the people who need it? Ensuring that women are able to access it, without economic devastation, or stigma, or excessive toil. And ensuring that they have the knowledge to understand their bodies and their health, and all that they need to do to protect themselves and their families.

Check out to learn more about all that we’re doing to change this reality.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

In the midst of it all.

We are in the process of moving overseas, visiting family, and packing our suitcases.  (You also might translate that as frantic packing of house, trying to raise fees for school aged kids in e. DRC, missing flights, and finding out about need for more surgery at the last minute.)  We have left our beautiful home in Ithaca and said goodbye to dear friends.  I've been too busy to post, but I have been sneaking in time to read a little here and there.  I thought I would share some with you.  Most of it has to do with orphan and vulnerable child care (OVC) in Africa or care for women and their health in eastern DRC. 

The first is from a new friend who has lived and worked in OVC in Liberia.  Her words are challenging and thought provoking.  Her first post in the series is found here.

I'll be honest and say I'm very nervous to start this series. I have a lot of wonderful friends who have adopted and I don't want people to feel I'm being critical of their adoptions. I wouldn't want anyone to think I'm anti-adoption, or against the movement of the evangelical church that was passionate about trying to help desperate children.

But life is a journey of learning. In the past I was involved in adoptions and I didn't see everything the way I see it now. Today, with my experiences I feel a responsibility to share my new perspective. My purpose is to encourage people towards ethical adoption as well as other ways to help needy children overseas, not to be critical of adoptions that have already taken place. I hope you will be patient with me as I try to explain my views, and give me the benefit of the doubt if I inadvertently sound overly negative.
 She continues the series with her story working in adoption in Liberia.  That post is here.

I once thought international adoption played a very important role in helping Liberia's needy children. But by the time I left Liberia in 2010 I realized Liberia had recovered enough from the war to take care of the majority of their orphans themselves. Additionally, if it were to reopen I think a lot of harm could be caused. Orphanages that have been shut down, or whose numbers have greatly diminished, would instantly be filled with children. What children? Not orphans - children with parents! Children who'd been living with parents or biological family up until that point. The simple act of having an orphanage can inadvertently create "orphans", and it would be so sad if this were to happen in Liberia. Like I saw in the Ivory Coast when I was a child, stable countries have ways of providing for their own orphans and children in need, without turning to orphanages and international adoption as their first resort.

More in her series:  God's Sovereignty in Unethical AdoptionsOpen Letter to Adoptive Parents.

The next post is from a woman working in Uganda at a family care center working with vulnerable families and children.  The stories we tell matter:  OVC Care.  

In the current evangelical orphan care movement there’s been a lot of focus on adoption. The story of adoption has dominated all forms of orphan care. We wrote books and preached sermons and made videos of gotcha days (that always make me cry). We told stories about individual children and families that opened their homes and God’s larger narrative of adoption.
And it was good. Those stories made more and more people adopt and the next thing we knew we had a movement.
There was only one problem.
While the stories we tell matter, the stories we don’t tell matter even more.

This next post is from a woman working in Ghana.  (First in a series of three.)  Orphan & Vulnerable Children Care past 1.  
Some parents bring their kids to the orphanage with the intention of possibly coming back in a few years when they are back on their feet and can properly provide for their child. Sadly, most never return because of stigma, fear, lack of support and resources. That doesn’t mean they still don’t love their child and long for the child to be growing up with them.
These children then grow up in institutionalized care that affects them negatively in major ways (will save this for another post). Many orphanages fail to meet the developmental needs of the children. Reintegration into society is difficult. One-on-one attention is lacking. Children can get lost in the shuffle of huge, overflowing orphanages. They can be exploited for labor and physically and sexually abused. The list could go on and on. Yes, children in orphanages are provided with food, clothing, shelter, medical attention, and schooling, but nothing replaces a family, no matter how well the orphanage is being run.
I strongly believe children belong in families, not institutions.
So what can be done? I would humbly suggest 3 things. 

 There is some amazing work being done by Channel Initiative with women in eastern DRC.  Check out their work here.   We will be sharing more about their work in the weeks ahead.  Here is a beautiful post by their founder:  Life Lessons from the Poor.

Impoverished communities are often the ones with the most innovative ideas, unique systems and ways of doing things, and of course, that sense of fellowship and community that we have all but lost – in the ‘developed’ world. Impoverished people, to me, can be some of the most interesting, hard-working, honorable and great people to actually get to know. When we cast the poor as the ones in need, we neglect the fact that there are so many strengths that go unrecognized and indeed under-appreciated in these communities. We neglect that fact, we neglect actually relating to the people, and in so doing, our work neglects that reality. Rather that drawing from existing needs, we cast ourselves in the, yes I’ll say it, the white industrialist savior role, and in so doing, we are forever the providers, the rescuers, the do-gooders, the awesome ones, and the poor, well, they are the ones who need us, in all of our brilliance, benevolence and awesomeness. And then we choose to not realize how our noble efforts of large-scale development, when done the typical way, are eerily a lot like the good old days of colonialism.
We paint a poor community with one brush stroke, and the teenaged philosopher who hikes to the internet cafĂ© to look up Sartre and post on his blog, gets forsaken. The promising political analyst with an astounding understanding of conflict dynamics is labeled as a ‘beneficiary’. The mom with a brilliant idea for getting her peers to the clinic during emergencies, is quieted down, and must line up for her ticket to get food rations. The young girl with dreams of becoming a *insert profession here, watches on as the white ATV leaves dust in her face as it speeds on by.
A beautiful video about work in Uganda finding homes for children.  Find it here.   This is from Child's i foundation--please check out their work!

And finally, a very interesting post that is well worth reading, named Missionary Reflections on Kathryn Joyce's: The Child Catchers.  

Communities of faith (I’ll even include mosques in the pragmatics) can develop networks of families who can immediately foster children when they fall into these situations.   No child should ever be without some type of family.   Then it is time to let government systems go to work.   Investigations need to be made.   As time discerns the situation re-unification with an extended family may be possible.   Yet, if it is not the very best answer is adoption.   Children belong in families.    The complexity of poverty and culture mean that some children will be adopted domestically in their passport nation.   Others will be adopted internationally.   The point is not an either or.   The hope is that under the trees our community will find enduing answers so that our children can flourish.                Thank you Ms. Joyce for giving us so much to think through.   You have made us wiser.  Karibu sana.   Please stop by our home if you are nearby for a cup of chai.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Their strong and beautiful faces (sending children to school and my 400th post all in one!)

The three sweet boys pictured above came one summer during the day to help play with the little ones at the orphanage.  They lived in the orphanage when they were little and then went back to their families once they were 5 years old.  We support them still by paying their school fees.

Providing children with school fees is one of the most important things we do.  It gives children an opportunity and a chance for a better more hopeful future.  It also empowers them and gives them choices.  Only 20% of children in DRC attend secondary school (high school).  Many of the children we support are not only going to grade school, but high school and some are going to local colleges! 

The photos below are of some the older school children we support.  The photos inspire me because of their haunting beauty, courage, and strength.  Life in eastern DRC as an "orphan" can be extremely difficult.  Giving the girls and boys that used to live in the orpphanage the opportunity to attend school changes their lives. 

This is my 400th post.  It is fitting it is about sending children to school because I love this part of our work so much.  (The other very important work we want to be doing is supporting families to keep their children through training, support, and micro finance.  More on that in the days ahead.)  We have 50 more children that need their school fees funded.  Please consider helping us by sending them to school (average of $18/child for the first trimester).  Links to paypal are on the right or on our home page of our website-  (Or you can sign up to sponsor a child for a full year on our website.)

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Sometimes, it's heard better when someone else says it.

I feel like I often say the same things over and over again.

I say, "when I lived in Congo, I saw family after family caring for the orphans in their midst, in fact, I rarely ever saw a family that didn't have an orphan in their home."  I have talked about the incredible church, community, and family networks that are integral in the care of vulnerable children in eastern DRC.  And when I talk about the babies at the orphanage we support, this is why I say, "they don't need international adoption, their families need support to care for the children they want but that they didn't have the formula to keep them alive (so they brought them to the orphanage)."  I argue over and over again, "that babies are left at the orphanage in a moment of crisis, and that their fathers or other family members intend to come get them."

But, sometimes, when someone else is saying it, it's better, and is heard easier and rings true.  Pluse it's exciting to share about other work in eastern DRC that supports vulnerable families!  This project is up the lake from the city where I lived (the city I lived in is about 3 hours away from the orphanage we support).

Here is a quote from the article (please read it, it's wonderful):

"In Congo, and in many other places, there is in fact a strong culture of extended family care. Solange, one of the SHONA Congo women, lost both her parents when she was a child.  Despite extreme poverty and living in the midst of a war-zone, Solange's uncle still took Solange in.  I doubt it occurred to him to do anything else.  In the face of extremely difficult situations, Congolese families regularly take in relatives, even distant relatives.  They take in children who have been orphaned, or whose parents just can't care for them right now.

But wait.  That doesn't mean the rest of us are off the hook.

Because what they are attempting is a Herculean task.  The loss of a parent is crushing, and even with the best of intentions, a remaining parent or an extended family often struggles to care for children in this type of loss.

Here is the reality.  Orphaned children often have some form of family that is able to take them in.  But what they and their families often don't have is support, emotional or financial."

Consider supporting Shona Congo.  Consider supporting other work that supports families and keeping them together in crisis in Congo.  Consider supporting vulnerable children and their families.  Consider supporting our work.  Right now we are raising $3000 for the 80 school children we support (and have been doing for the last three years).  For their first trimester school fees and school uniforms and notebooks.  They all were brought to the orphanage as babies after their mothers died and they all went back to their fathers or extended relatives by age 5 years old (some much earlier).  They all live with their families or extended families.  Most of these children would not be going to school without support from donors, especially not secondary school and especially not the girls. 

Thank you for listening.  And if you'd like to contribute to the school fees due September 1st, use the paypal links to the right on the blog here or at our website-  Or, head on over to Shona Congo and give there.  Thank you for caring for the strong and beautiful people of Congo!


Esperance, last week