You are all Christian leaders. You do the uncomfortable thing because it is right. You do the hard thing, the right thing. It is possible, and it can be done. You can move those children to loving homes, we have done it, so it can be done!
Last month, HCW’s Child Welfare Programs Liaison Mohamed Nabieu (Nabs) presented about his experience growing up in an orphanage to a special panel at the 1MILLIONHOME/Agape Family Reintegration Workshop in Nairobi, Kenya. Nabs, Ruth Wacuka and Peter Mthui (both from Kenya) shared their experiences as "care leavers," children who age out of institutional care without being placed in a family, in order to help child welfare advocates understand the impact of growing up in an institution. The panel presentation was extremely well-received by the workshop participants, prompting many follow-up questions.
Having grown up in different countries and orphanages, the stories of Peter, Ruth and Nabs are unique, but they share many similarities. They are passionate and compelling advocates for children in institutional care, and their stories are gaining a great deal of interest among child welfare programs around the world. The trio will be presenting again at the World Without Orphans Global Forum in Chiang Mai, Thailand this October.
Helping Children Worldwide is partnering with the 1MILLIONHOME Foundation to prepare and host a week-long Family Reintegration Workshop in Sierra Leone in 2020. When 1MILLIONHOME learned that the CRC was the first Sierra Leonean orphanage to successfully complete this transition, they offered to help support the workshop so that the CRC staff can train other orphanage directors and government officials to learn how to transition their own programs to family-based care.
The care leavers had five minutes each to tell their stories, excerpted below:
The care leavers’ presentations were followed by an audience Q&A.
Nabs: “[The Child Rescue Centre] continues to support the children’s education after they leave the orphanage, but now they live with families, building bonds, trust, and relationship. [The CRC] continues to support the child. We have done something very simple. Everything stays the same, we have just changed the sleeping location of the child. Our organization is now focused on family empowerment, micro finance training, and case management. We are building the family’s dignity to care for their own child. When a family becomes empowered, they are then able to mentor other families.”
Ruth: “I recommend Singing to the Lions (A Guide to Overcoming Fear and Violence in Our Lives, by Catholic Relief Services) a 10 week program to address trauma. Living in care and exiting cause trauma. Children need one on one counseling with a therapist. So many out there are still not able to talk about their experience.
Peter: “We are good at reacting, not pro-acting. Rather than thinking about how to fix what is broken, let’s focus on the kids in institutional care now - how can we get them home and end the cycle of trauma sooner?”
Nabs closed the care leavers presentation with words of motivation and encouragement. “We must address the cause, not the symptom. We rescue these children from the crisis, but we don’t address the cause of their crisis. Then when they go back home, they’re back in the crisis. You are all Christian leaders. You do the uncomfortable thing because it is right. You do the hard thing, the right thing. It is possible, and it can be done. You can move those children to loving homes, we have done it, so it can be done!”
“We are all broken, but it is well,” Nabs concluded.
Peter, Nabs, and Ruth had the opportunity to meet with 1MILLIONHOME COO Michele Schneidler and pastor and author Francis Chan, who was also a presenter at the conference.
Life is difficult in Sierra Leone for teenage mothers and their babies. Although Sierra Leone has one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy in the world, there is a strong social stigma against teenage pregnancy, and many families ostracize their daughters if they become pregnant. Most schools will not allow pregnant teens to remain enrolled. Family rejection leaves many young mothers unable to provide their children with adequate food, clothing, and medication.
The Child Rescue Centre and Mercy Hospital recently collaborated to provide local teenage moms with desperately needed baby clothes and supplies. CRC Director Olivia Fonnie, Guidance Counselor Rosa Saffa, and CRC Secretary Claudia Mani visited the maternity ward of Bo Government Hospital to deliver many bags of items donated by Mercy Hospital children's ward. More than 100 mothers and babies benefited from the generosity of the two organizations. Olivia, Rosa and Claudia prayed with the young mothers as they distributed the clothing, shoes, blankets, and other items.
"I gave birth to twins girls and their father went out to find clothes for the children first thing this morning and returned with some old ones saying he did not have enough money to purchase new ones. I give God all the thanks and appreciation for such wonderful gifts I received today, and may God continue to bless the providers,” one of the grateful recipients said.
The Child Rescue Centre teaches an effective program called "Honoring God With Your Body" that prepares students to delay sexual activity until marriage, so they can complete their education. HGWYB is a curriculum that was developed to teach young people about faith and human sexuality in a Christian context, and is regularly offered to students by the CRC.
The Child Rescue Centre staff hosted the first ever "Family Fun Day" with support from a visiting UMVIM team, led by team member and former CRC director Mohamed Nabieu. 42 parents and 75 children attended a festive and fun day of games and sports. The staff and UMVIM team divided into Purple, White and Blue teams, to rotate between activities including football (soccer), volleyball and indoor games. After working up a good appetite, everyone enjoyed fellowship and a delicious lunch.
As CRC programs are transforming to a family based program, the need for case management training has become very important for the CRC staff. While on a return visit to the CRC this summer, Nabs held a collaborative training with the CRC's case managers and partners from the US. The CRC staff and US volunteers have been meeting locally and via Zoom for some months in preparation for the training. The four-day training involved ten participants.
Participants learned the ways and methods case managers use to impact the lives of their students in Sierra Leone, and they were learned techniques for tracking measurements of change. The trainees especially valued learning techniques for approaching teenagers, how to handle bad behaviors, motivational interviewing, and open-ended questioning.
Participants cited the value of learning about role playing, and how it can be used to communicate effectively with children and youth. There was a general consensus that more such training will be very valuable, and the CRC staff plans to coordinate with other organizations to share learning and develop healthy connection.
Members of the July mission team organized the second annual "Teacher Learning Collaborative," a joint project of the Child Rescue Centre and teachers from Bo-area schools.
This year, eight inspiring "teacher-leaders" were invited to participate in a four day "trainer-of-trainers" professional development event, where the participants gained a deeper understanding of children and learning.
Over the course of the week, the group developed a curriculum to use with other teachers in Sierra Leone.
"Our time together was filled with laughter, strong opinions, serious conversations, respect, years of experience, a deep love for children and education and great joy!" missioner Sharon Gardner reported.
The Child Rescue Centre is excited to welcome their new director, Olivia Fonnie. Previously, Olivia was the Director of Christian Education and Specialized Ministry to Children of the United Methodist Church, Sierra Leone Conference, a position she had held since 2011. In that role, she often visited the CRC and interacted with the staff, who are happy to welcome her on board.
Olivia was born in Freetown and has lived her whole life in Sierra Leone. She holds degrees in Theology and Community Development, and certificates in teaching and social development. Olivia was married to her late husband, Samuel, for 26 years. She has an adult son, Aiyu, who is studying to become a doctor.
“Working with children has always being my passion,” Olivia says. She taught at the Albert Academy UMC for many years before becoming the Director of Exams at the school.
She has held many other positions in education and community development, but she says the Directorship of the CRC is a fulfillment of her dream to raise children to their God-given potential.
To be closer to work, Olivia moved into the former Deborah House on the CRC compound, one of the dorms that was renovated to accommodate the shift away from residential care. "I like Bo because it is quiet compared to the bustle of Freetown," she says.
"We have some challenges, but by the grace of God we are meeting them," she says of her new role. What does she like best about being the CRC Director? "Meeting the children! And now I see them all the time! I only have one son, but I have so many kids," Olivia laughs.
"Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Do you love me?’ and he answered yes. Jesus said to him, 'Feed my lambs.' I am happy to be part of this great and dynamic CRC staff here in Bo and in partnership with HCW, to respond to God’s command.”
With the support of their teachers in Bo District, WASSCE pupils met and engaged in practice testing for their exams. The practice tests targeted WASSCE pupils and started with a planning meeting, distribution of the examination’s time table, and finally the practice exam period which lasted five days. After the event, the students’ papers were marked and sent to the education manager. With the support of the examiners and other CRC staff, they were able to identify areas that need specific attention before the exams from the two major subjects (Mathematics and English Language).
After scoring the initial practice exams, three students passed the mathematics section (Hassan Koroma, Kemoh Kallon, and Aminata Kallon) while seven students passed the English Language section (Hassan Koroma, Kemoh Kallon, Aminata Kallon, Alhaji Songu, David Swaray, Robert Bangura, and Vandi Koi Manjama A.). The teachers recognized that the reason for some poor performance was that they were unable to cover the complete academic syllabus with the students up to this point. They also recognized that some students lacked the technical ability to answer questions, especially long essays, letter writing, and summary.
As the CRC has close relationships with school authorities, two of the examiners in the major subjects have voluntarily opted to support the children before the examination for more coaching and providing them with techniques to answer questions. This practice exam event was very helpful to the students.“Coming for such a program like this is a step in the right direction. During the practice test exams I was able to know some of the areas not covered and pay more attention to” said student Vandi Koi Monjama A. Another student, John Sandy, said “I am really happy for the exam’s practice, during the event I was able to know my weakling points”. We wish all of the students luck as they prepare to take their exams!
Case Managers at the Child Rescue Centre recently planned letter writing events for students. These events were planned in order to enhance effective sponsorship and ensure that students in the CRC program living in the most remote and rural areas of Sierra Leone write to their sponsors. Visits were planned to three different districts: the Pujehun District, the Fengehun District, and the Maguama District. All District Case Managers set out to visit their students and captured some great photographs while overseeing the events.
The events were filled with excitement as letters were read, interpreted, and distributed to their respective students. Students loved reading letters from their sponsors and writing letters back to them, making sure to include many fun drawings and stickers! Case managers were able to reach many students on their caseload as well as connect with teachers and community members. Victor S. Kanu, a Case Manager at the Child Rescue Centre said, “During the process I came to understand that teachers at rural communities are determined to support the program, and support the case managers and their children to write to their sponsors”. The community support through the Child Rescue Centre and beyond is such an incredible thing to be a part of!