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.
The best place for the child is in the home. Orphanages are the worst place for them.
On June 26, 2018, the Child Rescue Centre held a solemn, yet joyful ceremony to celebrate the reunification of the twenty remaining residential students, who went to live with their "forever families."
The CRC is in the forefront of the international movement to move children out of orphanages, as UNICEF and other child-focused organizations across the globe recognize that caring families are far better at raising emotionally and mentally healthy children than institutions.
The event was attended by the children and their families, the CRC staff, Bishop John Yambasu, Mrs. Olivia Fonnie, and representatives from SOS Children's Village and the Ministry of Social Welfare.
Even though there were some emotional moments, the overwhelming sentiment was joyful anticipation for the children as they go to live with their "forever families." The parents were assured of the organization’s support for their children, who will remain enrolled as CRC students, and come to the CRC compound to attend activities and stay connected.
The following dignitaries and honored guests spoke:
Bishop John K. Yambasu, Sierra Leone Annual Conference
This is an occasion for thanksgiving to God after almost 18 years. From the very humble beginnings near the market, up to this time. Until we appreciate ourselves and what we have done, we cannot appreciate God. I really want to appreciate CRC staff, you are nothing but the best. We have gone through so many transitions together. Children have come and gone, staff have come and gone. It has been a struggle. Many people when they come to a job, come to serve themselves. But this is not correct. We need to serve humanity and serve God.
We are not really closing the residence. We will still maintain a transit home for emergency cases that the Ministry of Social Welfare can recommend to us. This will only be a short-term and temporary transit home.
It is a blessing to be a parent, and it comes with so much responsibility. I give these caregivers the advice to treat the children in your care as if they were your own children. If someone looks at your family, they should not be able to know who is your real biological child and who is not. With love, we will come to help empower you to be the best parents you can be.
I want to say thanks and appreciation to Social Welfare. They have been working with us since the beginning. We are smaller than some of the other NGOs. But we are a strong faith-based organization, and we became the best child care organization.
Nobody can do this work alone. I want to thank all the staff, the UMC staff, Olivia, Rev Charley, and our partners at HCW. All of this started with me and Rev. Tom Berlin. Then we started getting one partner church, than two, and now we have 17 partner churches. I want to thank them so much for all their support over the years. It is really not easy for them to raise money for us, they work so hard. They are the only ones supporting us and we are so grateful to them.
We have had some bitter experiences with reunification in the past. We used to have the children in the home for so long. They would stay until they were 18 years old. Some came in at 7 years old and would spend 10, 12 years in the home. Once they left they had a hard time because outside there was no control. They were not able to adjust well and they fell into trouble.
Of course, some really did well. This man here, 18 years ago, was one of you here, one of the first children in this program. Now he is the Director. Honestly, I don’t want to embarrass him, but we have had 5 or 6 Directors and he has been the best one. He takes this as his family, as his home and he wants only the best for it. Its not about money.
Many of the children here have gone on to do great things: doctors, architects, and many work here at CRC. That’s the profit we get. That is the greatest benefit we get from this work, to see all the wonderful things the children will do.
Mabel Mustapha, Reunification Chairperson and Education Manager
Today is a very important day in the history of our organization. This is the last reunification ceremony. The children will finally be reunited with their families. There have been many reunifications, the first one was in 2012, but this will be the last. For me, I am happy because we started this two years ago with training and preparing the families. So we know the parents and the children are both ready for this because we have helped to build a bond for these families.
Olivia Fonnie, CRC Supervisory Chair
I would like to speak directly to the parents. Because I am a parent and I know how difficult it can be. Please, let us have patience with them. One day your child may come to you and ask for something that you do not have in your hand. Please be patient with them and gently explain to them that things are different in your home and that you don’t have everything they might have at CRC. Use your stipend wisely and for the benefit of your children for their schooling. Thank you for taking them, God will surely bless you.
Mohamed Nabieu, CRC Director
Anything God asks you to do, do it to the best of your ability. Do it so you can sleep well at night with a clear conscience that you did your best. We made sure that all of you are biologically related. The best thing for a child is to be raised in the home with their real relatives.
I am proud of where I came from, I am so thankful for all the CRC has done for me. After the war, I was separated from my family and there was no choice other than to go to the orphanage. Up to date, I still struggle to know my extended family because I never was able to connect with them. It really bothers me.
80% - 90% of children in orphanages have a living parent. They go into orphanages because of poverty. Why are you doing something for somebody when they can do it themselves? Children need to know their roots and be with their forever family. Parents need to have the opportunity to raise their own children.
Your children are precious to us but they need to be with you. We will continue supporting them so you can be a family. You are going to have challenges. Here in the home there is a strict schedule. There is a time for everything. There are many rules. It will be different for the children to be in the community. We are moving our focus from an individual child to the entire family. This is so the family can support all the children and become sustainable and move out of poverty.
Hawa Koker, Director of SOS Children's Village
I want to congratulate the CRC for the bold step they have taken in this direction. I want to thank all these partners. We realize that we need to make these changes. Honestly, we are not on the right track. This poverty issue is really true for us in Sierra Leone and it makes children come to the orphanage. We need to work together to share data.
I agree with the Director about the best place for a child. Its not easy for people to embrace it. We are struggling. We have 150 children in the village. Its just not easy. I know we are resistant to change but this change is the best for the children. Many children in our program have families. Their families cannot even visit them without a pass. Some family homes are so close to the village that the children can wave over the fence to their parents. But their parents won’t wave back because they are afraid of the children being taken out of the program.
Some family homes are so close to the [SOS] village that the children can wave over the fence to their parents. But their parents won’t wave back, because they are afraid of the children being taken out of the program.
We have started allowing the children to go home to their families on some weekends or holidays. It is not forced. We have 150 children and on those weekends maybe only 5 children will stay back in the village. So that means that obviously SOS is not the place for them to be. If you keep somebody for 18 years they have to come back to us. They don’t know anything about being outside.
We need to continuously check ourselves and see if it is in the interest of the child. When the children come back to SOS after being with their families, they cry. You can never replace blood. Blood is blood. Let's join together and do the best we can for the children. We are creating an empire for a small number and when they mix with other children, they see them as nothing. Differences are there. Poverty is not an excuse.
Patrick Bangura, Director Ministry of Social Welfare
The best place for the child is in the home. Orphanages are the worst place for them. They are not able to adjust back. We appreciate the steps of CRC that they are following the laws. I am really happy to hear about the interim care home because we have critical cases. Recently CRC helped us with one of those and we are so grateful. Sierra Leone does not have orphans. There always has to be a relative, an auntie or an uncle. You just need to trace them.
Aminata Mansary, President, Children’s Voice
I am happy for CRC because it has helped my educational life and it has helped my spiritual life. I am sure CRC will still support me and help me to grow and learn. I want to say thank you to the staff and thank you to my brothers and sisters.
Sallay Mattia, Caregiver
We are so happy because of this. Thank you for taking care of our children. Thank you for teaching us and training us. We are so happy when the children come to visit us and stay with us. We are excited to have them at home now. We are happy to have your support and thank you all.
Abduali Dakowa, CRC student
On behalf of the children, I want to thank everyone for all they have done for us. We thank the staff for taking good care of us and helping us to learn. We thank the partners for everything. We are very happy and love you all.
Musu Mansary, Caregiver
I am so happy that the children are coming to stay with me. It is very good. They are nice girls and I am glad they will be with me. Thank you to CRC for helping us.
The remaining children in the residential program enjoyed spending Sierra Leone Independence day with their families, returning with stories and good news.
Norman Koroma and his sister Kadijah will soon be reunified to live with their extended family. “I am very happy to go and see my family and friends at home and within the community,” Norman exclaimed. He played football with his friends, and was very happy to meet with other boys in the community.
Norman and Kadijah enjoyed a special meal of fish balls, rice and soup prepared by their aunt. They went to church on Sunday, and afterwards he had lunch with his grandmother at home. “I am also very grateful that the CRC has been sending me home to connect back with my relatives. Now I can go to the community with a sense of belonging, and not as a complete stranger," Norman said.
Janet Musa also enjoyed the Independence holiday with her parents, brothers, and sisters at home, where they played the "lodo" game and enjoyed a meal of cassava leaf. On Saturday, Janet helped her mother wash her clothes and went with her grandmother to visit her uncle. On Sunday, Janet and her sisters went to church.
For Janet, the most fun was playing stone ball with her sisters and friends at home. “I look forward to going back to my forever family soon. I am happy for the CRC for tracing my family and connecting me with them."
Edwina Davies spent her holiday visit with her grandmother. On Independence Day her grandmother prepared her favorite food, rice and cassava leaves with oil. “My grandmother is living with my five cousins. The whole family was very happy to have me join them on that weekend. My cousins and I played a lot just like we did at CRC. In the morning, I am the first to get up from my bed and woke everybody up for devotion. After the devotion, I greeted everybody at home. My grandmother told my cousins to copy my good examples of saying thank you, praying at devotions and greeting everybody in the morning," Edwina said proudly.
Abdulai Dakowa spent his holiday with his mother Saffie Dakowa, his elder brother Lahai, and his younger sister Nyalima. Abdulai said his family was very happy to have him spend the holiday with them. On Independence Day, their family attended a morning service at church.
Abdulai enjoyed participating in family activities. “During my stay with them, I always helped my mother in the evening hours to water the plants in the garden. My mother is a gardener. She sells potato leaves and krain, and uses the income for food and school lunch for the family. I also helped my brother to clean the house. After we have finished all our house chores we studied together. Thank God to the CRC for teaching me all these domestic activities, and for connecting me with my family,"
The CRC staff has worked hard for 18 months to ensure that the remaining residential children have had ample opportunity to form attachments with the families with whom they’ll be reunified this summer. Families and children have benefited from frequent interactions both at the CRC facility and in their own homes within the Bo community, including having children spend weekends and long vacations at their families’ homes. The children and their families were very excited to leave the CRC on March 23rd in order to spend the Easter Holidays together. All the students will return to the CRC on April 3rd, 2018.
Due to the ongoing presidential elections being held in Sierra Leone, a special session was held with the parents prior to the children’s departure. Members of the CRC staff addressed various topics relating to child care and protection during the busy and somewhat hectic election season. The program concluded with refreshments for parents, children, and CRC staff at the CRC dining hall.