Thursday, February 6, 2014

It is not enough.

It has been 4 years this month that I first visited and started supporting the orphanage we support in eastern DRC.  From the first day we were very alarmed by the condition of the children.  We were thankful that the mamas loved the children so much but there was little they could do caring for almost 40 babies and toddlers when there were only two women on a shift.  We saw all the signs of neglect, malnourishment, nutritional deficiencies, developmental delays, extreme sensory issues, lots of rocking back and forth and self soothing behaviors.  Babies were practically untouched all day and there was little interaction or human touch for those that were out of their cribs.  You can read all about the harm institutions can do to babies and children, but when you hold a 14 month old that weighs the same as a newborn, can't lift her head up and shudders when you touch her, your heart is forever changed.

So, we (with the help of other, like some of you reading this right now) helped to bring change.  We brought high quality formula.  And we promised we wouldn't stop when we realized on later visits that it was still being watered down because they didn't know if we would be back.  The mamas wanted to make sure what they had would last so that they didn't run out of milk for the babies.  We did training after training on mixing formula correctly, on safe water standards, on how much and how often to feed babies.  We consistently weighed the babies.  We hired a nurse to work in the orphanage and monitor formula and that babies.  We still do this work.

It is not enough. 

We hired more women to care for the babies and toddlers.  We did training after training on the importance of touch and holding babies.  We talked about how in Congo mamas wrap their babies close to their babies from birth until they are walking and beyond.  We talked about how that is so very important for babies hearts and minds.  We talked about how we knew they loved these babies and we promised more help for them.  We told them they are the hands of God holding the babies, that they are their mamas.  We still do this work.

It is not enough.

We talked about the importance of play for the older children, they they needed to be outside in the sunshine and playing in the grass.  We talked about how talking and interacting to toddlers, touching them and hugging them, is as important as the food they are given.  We still do this work.

It is not enough.

What have I learned after 4 years of this work?  I have learned that I did it all wrong.  I have learned that if you don't begin the work with a plan for every single child that considers how to make their time there as short as safely possible, then you are doing great harm to the children you are trying to help.  I have learned that a child is a part of their family and that the family is just as important as that child.  I have learned that the nicer you make the orphanage, the more the babies will come.  I have learned that if you only focus on meeting the acute needs of the children living in the orphanage, and not also on family reunification and support, you will miss out on what those children really need most of all to survive: their families.  

For the past two we have been focused on changing our mission at Reeds of Hope to one that prioritizes the alternative care framework, family reunification and support.  We are committed to making sure our on-ground work fits with our mission: children belong with their families whenever possible, not in an orphanage. 

If you are supporting an orphanage or thinking about supporting one, or, if you are the director of an organization that supports an orphanage or someone who is just helping from of the goodness of their heart, please consider the kind of work you are doing.  Consider that if you are only meeting the acute physical needs of the children in the orphanage you may be doing more harm than good (because even the best orphanages harm children).  If you are not working harder to help them return to their families (please see this post) than you are to meet their acute physical needs, then you are not meeting their greatest need.  They have a fundamental human right to be with their families and we have a responsibility in DRC to come along families who are in vulnerable situations and need support so that they can care for their children.   

I'm so excited about 2014 and the changes that are coming.  We have the funds for a motorcycle as well as the funds to hire a social worker.  I can't tell you how much this means to me.  We are starting a second partnership that you can read about here.  

We have done some good things in the past four years, some very good things.  But, it is not enough.  We want to do our best for the children we support.  

Thank you for supporting the children and families of eastern DRC and partnering with us in this work.

(This post is not about International Adoption, please see this resource if you would like to know how IA fits into the alternative care framework.  And please visit (and consider supporting) the work of these two groups in Uganda for a better picture of what this work would look like in DRC:  The Abide Family Center and Child's i Foundation.) 

All photos copyright of Reeds of Hope and not to be used without permission. 

1 comment:

Laurie said...

Wow, Holly, thank you so much for sharing this and for the work you're doing!!!!