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.
Aminata Conteh is the caregiver of two children enrolled in CRC programs; Samuel B. Kamara and Abu Backrria S. Conteh. Aminata was fortunate enough to qualify for the CRC’s microfinance training program because of her ongoing commitment to the CRC, and her family’s extreme financial vulnerability. She completed the training, was presented with a certificate and given a small loan to launch or revive a business.
Aminata did well in the microfinance training, and has been able to realize her potential upon graduating, receiving her microloan and setting up her small business. She discovered that with the lessons she’d learned, she could be a good business woman, make a profit, save for emergency purposes and better support her children.
Members of the CRC staff recently visited her at her market stall to check on the progress of her business and microloan repayment. Aminata shared that prior to her participation in the microfinance training, her small business had failed as a result of poor management, and lack of understanding of simple budgeting skills. Discouraged, she had given up the business, and sat at home for some time, unsure of how to find success.
The class has taught Aminata how to manage her money much better, and now she is able to budget her money, save, and plan for the future to both grow her business and eventually gain her financial independence. With the small loan of approximately $90, she reestablished her market business, and is now making and even saving money. “Since I have launched my business again, I am doing well as a result of the training, “ Aminata says.
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.”
Baindu Simbo is a single mother with four children, three of whom are enrolled as Child Rescue Centre students. Baindu has a disability that has made it difficult to care for her family, but was eager to join the microfinance program to learn business and budgeting skills.
"I really enjoy working with Baindu Simbo," CRC Case Manager Victor Kanu says. "During the training and the followup monitoring visits, she always gives honest information. I am proud of her for paying her loan and sustaining her business."
Baindu has already repaid her initial loan and interest, and her business is doing well. Through her success in the microfinance program, Baindu has gained confidence, and her community admires her for her determination and achievement.
“I give thanks to the CRC for supporting me to launch my business," Baindu shared. "I find pleasure in producing my Africana soap,” she says with pride.
Case manager Victor Kanu visited Baindu at home, where she demonstrated her soap making process. "I find pleasure in producing my African soap," Baindu says.
The Child Rescue Centre (CRC) was proud to celebrate the graduation of the second microfinance class last week. The ceremony opened with prayer offered by one of the microfinance participants, Sallay Mattia, mother to Sallay and Hassan Combay. Education Manager Mabel Mustapha thanked God for the lives of the participants, facilitators, and the donors for organizing such a wonderful capacity building training for the thirty two beneficiaries, at the same time providing a loan for startup capital. She encouraged the graduates to remain committed, and work hard to repay their loans on time.
Child Support Program Manager David Titus Musa reminded the graduates of the importance of time management, which they learned in the training. "Use your time very well," David advised, especially considering that some of the businesses are seasonal.
Ministry of Social Welfare Representative, Sylvanus Conteh, expressed thanks and appreciation to the CRC for their support of the ministry in the areas of child justice, child protection, health, and education. Mr. Conteh encouraged the graduates to work very hard to pay their loans, and use the money for the intended purpose, the care of their children. "There are lots of people out there looking for such opportunity," he told the graduates, adding that the ministry will also be assisting in monitoring their progress.
On behalf of Bishop Yambasu, UMC-SLAC Representative Rev. Francis Charley thanked the staff and participants for their diligence and hard work, adding that the raising of children is the most important business. "A home without a child is not a happy home," Rev. Charley exclaimed. "The Child Rescue Centre is a Christian organization," he told the gathering, "but we are not selective among Christian or Muslim, or whether you are UMC members or not. The organization gives to those who are in need."
Rev. Charley reminded the parents that the CRC is supporting them so that they can take better care of their children. “Whatever you are doing must be in the interest of the child," he concluded.
Mabel Mustapha told the graduates that supporters in the US are really interested in the microfinance program, because they view it as a key to sustainable development and growth, therefore "they should work very hard to repay their loans on time."
Several graduates shared their testimonies. Mariam Filiwon, mother of Vaikuma Fofanah, told the group “I use to mismanage my funds, spend without budgeting, used money just as it comes, no investment. Since I was doing a business I was not saving, but now I do save on a daily basis." Mariam said she is saving 60,000 leones each month.
“I now know how to make a budget and plan for the rainy days," James Kanu, father of Augustine and Christian Kanu, testified, adding that participation in the program had "improved honesty among my family members with regard to finances."
Following a certificate ceremony and disbursement of loans, the graduates enjoyed refreshments. In total, 32 caregivers graduated, including 30 women and two men.
- Victor S. Kanu- CSP/FCP Assistant Coordinator and Lead Facilitator for Microfinance
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.
For the past year, the CRC staff has been working to strengthen the bonds between the residential children and their families. These activities have included having the children visit their families' homes on Sunday afternoons, and during weekends or holiday breaks, and providing counseling to both children and families. Families are also welcome and encouraged to visit the CRC facility for sports events, Wednesday devotions, and parenting workshops.
On January 26th, the CRC's Reunification Committee led parents in a Nurturing Hearts workshop focused on equipping parents with strategies for forming and sustaining health attachments with their child. The Nurturing Hearts curriculum was first provided to the CRC staff through a training led by Patrice Penney and Beth Ratchford in July of 2015. Following the workshop, parents had the opportunity to spend some one-on-one time with their children. Parents have also been encouraged to visit with their child every fourth night from now until the children are finally reunified with them. The remaining 20 children will be reunified with their 'forever families' later this year.
In the early months of 2017, the Child Rescue Centre launched a pilot microfinance program. Specifically focused on the most vulnerable of the families served by CRC programs, 30 parents were invited to enroll in the first Microfinance Class. Participation in an 18 week course on savings, budgeting and money management is required for certification and the award of a small loan in the amount of 500,00 le (approximately $70).
Recently the participants where asked to share the most significant changes they've experienced since taking the class and receiving a loan. Many shared that they are now able to pay their rent, and that their school-aged children now have lunch money for school. Many participants are sharing the financial knowledge they've gained with their spouses and other family members.
Amara Fofanah says that one significant impact is that he "is able to pay for Saturday classes" for his children. These are necessary to help kids do well on national exams, but they often cost more so those who can't pay don't benefit. He also shared that for the first time, his children have lunch money to take to school with them.
Nancy Jusu Sr agrees. Before receiving her small loan, Nancy had to walk around Bo to sell cassava and potato leaves. The loan enabled her to set up a small table stall near her home. Even more importantly, it came in time for her to purchase medications for her very ill daughter, whom she's convinced would not have survived without it.
The CRC's Family Strengthening Program not only provides the opportunity for parents and family to visit the CRC and attend regular activities with their student, but also gives students the chance to spend weekends and holidays at their forever homes. This helps students to become gradually acclimated to life in the Bo community. The students enjoy learning how to help out at home.