Hannah Smith has been named Senior Prefect of Methodist Girls High School in Bo. We are so proud of this Child Reintegration Centre student, and how she has overcome insurmountable obstacles in her young life.
Senior prefect is a big honor, but also a huge responsibility, roughly equivalent to being the president of the student body in a US high school. As senior prefect, Hannah represents the students before the administration, organizes events, helps maintain discipline and academic performance, and mentors other students. Hannah was selected on the basis of a written examination, a verbal interview with the school administration, and her excellent academic performance.
"I am very happy for this position," Hannah says. "I can now talk to my colleagues in school on issues affecting their education and other related activities. This has motivated me to study more to maintain my performance in school.
Hannah comes from a very vulnerable family, and her childhood was not easy. For several years, she and her brother Paul were separated from their handicapped father, who was unable to care for them until his situation was stabilized with the help of the Child Reintegration Centre's family strengthening program. Hannah and Paul were reunited with their father Paul Sr after living for several years in the residential centre during a very precarious time for their family. You can read more about their story in our Fall 2018 magazine.
Hannah has always wanted to be a leader in her home, community, church and school. "My aim is to be president of Sierra Leone," she says. Her best friend Elizabeth is proud of her friend. "I am blessed to have a friend like Hannah," Elizabeth says. "She has helped me change my negative behavior to a positive one. She is like a mentor to me."
In the fall of 2019, leaders of Christian organizations gathered in New York during the United Nations General Assembly to discuss a collaborative effort to encourage the global church's support for placing vulnerable children in safe, loving families. Last week, the group met again to sign a Global Pledge to support all children thriving in safe and loving families. Melody Curtiss and Laura Horvath represented HCW to sign the pledge. The pledge will soon become available for all supporters to sign at globalchurch.org.
The Pledge: We believe God designed families as the best environment for children and young people to receive the love, belonging, and protection they need in order to flourish. Therefore, on behalf of vulnerable children around the world, we commit to support efforts which strengthen families, invest in family-based solutions, and combat the root causes of their vulnerability.
See pictures of the signing ceremony below.
1MILLIONHOME/HCW Family Reunification Workshop
HCW, 1MILLIONHOME and the Sierra Leone Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs (MSWGCA) are collaborating to hold a reintegration/transition workshop for orphanage directors, child welfare program leaders, and government officials from West Africa.
The workshop will be held in Freetown in Fall 2020. Program Development Director Laura Horvath describes the event as a hands-on workshop designed to equip participants with the tools they need to begin their own transition from institutional to family-based care, as recommended by the United Nations. (Read more about family reintegration here.)
MSWGCA Minister Mabinty Tarawallie will host a nationwide meeting with all registered child protection organizations to encourage attendance at the 1MILLIONHOME/HCW workshop. The CRC will be highlighted as a trailblazer in the movement to reintegrate children with their family of birth or a foster family.
Collaboration with Street Child to rescue abandoned children
The CRC staff have been collaborating with Street Child to provide interim care for abandoned children while their families are traced and prepared for reintegration. Street Child has a long history in Sierra Leone providing short term and emergency care to homeless children. "I am very excited about the CRC taking the lead to work side by side to get children off the streets, Child Welfare Programs Liaison Mohamed Nabieu says. "The MSW Minister's goal is to take 1,000 kids off the streets by the end of this year, and she would be working with the CRC to support her goal."
The CRC continues to build a robust case management system, hiring additional case managers to effectively and efficiently monitor the welfare of children and families.
CRC mentors orphanages transitioning to family care
The CRC is launching a Deinstitutionalization department focused on helping orphanages transition from residential to family care. Led by long time CRC team member David Musa, the DI Department will assess an organization's readiness for transition, teach the organization how to develop a transition plan, and coach their staff through the process. The DI Department will coach orphanages on safe, collaborative, and sustainable family reintegration, as well as family strengthening and sustainability.
Filmmakers from 1MILLIONHOME recently visited Sierra Leone to interview and film families who have gone through the process of reuniting with their children who were previously in residential care. Helping Children Worldwide and 1MILLIONHOME are collaborating to create videos, print resources, and workshops to train child-focused organizations on how to move away from institutional care and towards family care for all children.
"There were some really hard stories, and I personally learned so much more about the challenges of on-going family care in the midst of extreme poverty," filmmaker Leigh Sarti said about the filming process. CRC Program Manager David Musa and other staff accompanied the crew on all home visits, serving as interpreters for the children and families.
Child Welfare Programs Liaison Mohamed Nabieu represented HCW at World Without Orphans' global forum in Chiang Mai, Thailand last month. WWO's mission is helping children remain in, be reunited with, or regain a healthy family, so that they can reach their God-given purpose. As a "care leaver" (someone who grew up in an orphanage) Mohamed was a featured speaker at the conference. In addition to presenting as a care leaver, Nabs was a co-presenter with Andrew Schneidler of 1MillionHome, sharing the Child Reintegration Centre's experience transitioning from an institutional model of care to a family-based model. HCW/CRC is a globally recognized leader in care reform and in how to transition to family-based care.
"Keeping families together should play a pivotal role in childcare. Family is firmly entrenched into our bloodlines and DNA, and it is through a family that secure attachment and healthy relationships are born," Mohamed told the attendees. "Poverty being the driving force for separating families, taking children and putting them into orphanages just deepens the separation by adding emotional and psychological aftermath to it. Part of God's design, families as natural systems, are meant to uphold each other through both favorable and odd seasons. With poverty and other crisis, orphanages or institutions for children should not take the lead as the only and ongoing solution."
"Families may be poor in providing the materialistic support to their children, but they are rich in providing genuine love to them. Our role as leaders is to partner with them for their success at all levels," he concluded. HCW is collaborating with WWO and other child-focused organizations to support the global movement to help children grow up in caring families, instead of institutions.
Attendees learned strategies for family reintegration and preparation of foster and adoptive families, as well as case management tools for assessing children's well-being.
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. The care leavers are on a mission to help child welfare advocates understand the impact of growing up in an institution, and encourage the the reintegration of families. 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.
The Child Rescue Centre provides more than health and education support to children; they help families too. CRC staff offer workshops for parents of children in its programs as well. Recently, this has included the addition of a six module training package and workshops on attachment theory, designed to help foster parents and those recently reunified with their own CRC children learn how to understand attachment in order to build and nurture healthy attachments with their children.
The six attachment theory training modules were created by the University of Maine Honors College students and faculty, working together with a wide range of professional associates in collaboration with Patty Morell. Extensive research, fact finding, and exchange of study data was drawn upon to create this workshop product. CRC staff contributed by making culturally appropriate revisions and suggestions to graphics, imagery, verbiage, and activities contained in the training.
According to CRC Case Manager Deborah Kanneh, the first two training sessions using modules one and two have been very well-received. “It has helped parents to create a healthy relationship and a strong bond with their children. The most useful lesson they learned during the first workshop was the use of the three T’s,” Deborah said. “This means they should talk with their children everyday telling them how much they love them, to touch their children by holding their hands, and also make time for them.”
Parents attending the workshops share that they’ve learned how important it is for children to be attached to their parents so that they can be more secure and comfortable around their caregivers and know that their needs will be met. “A child who has gone through trauma in his or her life needs more encouragement from me,” said one mother.
“I’ve learned that children will like to repeat positive behaviors if you speak compliments to them,” shared another.
“A child that has experienced trauma can be aggressive towards their fellow children,” shared another participant. “We have to understand the source of trauma in our children before we react.”
Participants have requested that a component of the attachment training be included in every monthly meeting they attend at the CRC, and that the CRC hold sessions that include the children as well. They’ve also requested materials they can share with other parents in the community. As one participant said, “love and attention are really important in families.”
CRC Case Manager Victor Kanu recently visited the home of former residential student Abdulai Dakowa, who is now enrolled in the Family Care Program. His mother Saffiatu is so grateful to be reunited with her son.
Saffiatu enrolled in the CRC's first microfinance class, and started an African soap business with the small loan she received upon graduation from the class. She joined the local "osusu" (lending group) and has been able to turn a profit and save money to support her little family.
Victor found that Abdulai is doing well at home with his mother, brother and sister. He helps with cooking and some domestic work, and participates in morning devotions with his family. His mother says that Abdulai is practicing his Christian life at home.
"I wish to express my sincere thanks and appreciation to you for the valuable assistance your organization has rendered to me in the upbringing and education of my son Abdulai at this very difficult time," Saffiatu told Victor. "This offer to us has contributed so immensely to the future of Abdulai," she says with gratitude.