The Child Reintegration Centre has launched its initiative to rescue street children, collaborating with local organization Street Child UK, which estimates there are as many as 6,500 children living on the streets of Bo. These children may have escaped violence in the home, or they may have been abandoned by parents who are too poor to provide for them. They are in desperate need of shelter, food, education, and a family to love them. This is the case with Momodu and Momoh, brothers identified by Street Child and rescued by the CRC.
Momodu, 14 and Momoh, 12, are from a family of 10 children, of whom four died. The family, originally from a village near Bo, began to fall apart when their mother fled the abuse of her alcoholic husband. She took her daughter, but left the five boys to fend for themselves. Momodu soon ran away, landing on the streets of Bo. He survived by begging for empty cartons from shop owners, which he sold to market women for a few cents. Sometimes he sold metal scraps that he gathered from garages.
Eventually Momodu tired of the rough street life and returned to his village, but the home situation had not changed. His father gave him and his brother Momoh a little money to travel to their auntie's home in Bo, where two of their brothers had gone to escape the turmoil of their home. Sadly, their aunt also turned them away because she had no room for them.
Alone and abandoned, Momodu and Momoh had nowhere to turn but the street. They washed dishes for a woman who sold food at night. In payment, she gave them a little food and money. They slept in market stalls, where they were discovered by Street Child UK, who referred them to the CRC.
The CRC staff brought the brothers into the interim home, took them to Mercy Hospital for testing, and began counseling. The CRC is tracing their family to identify a safe home for them. They want to go back to school, but for the time being, they are so happy to be at the CRC.
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.
Ministry of Social Welfare and Gender Affairs praises CRC for their contributions in nation building
The Sierra Leone Ministry of Social Welfare and Gender Affairs (MSWGA) is the government agency in charge of ensuring that vulnerable children and people are cared for appropriately. As a child welfare organization, the Child Rescue Centre participates in monthly meetings held by the MSWGA. These meetings allow MSWGA representatives and the leaders of various organizations involved in the care of vulnerable children like the CRC, Joshua Child Care, and SOS Children’s Home to share information, best practices, and to receive updates.
At a regular meeting held in October, the MSWGA commended the CRC for the work it has done in the areas of child protection, education, health, child safety, final reunification of children in the residential program, and the microfinance program.
“The Child Rescue Centre has been very proactive in addressing child welfare issues in the Bo District,” says Michael James, Senior Social Service Officer in Charge of Trafficking. James shared that the Ministry considers the CRC an exemplary child welfare program, particularly in the fairness and lack of bias of its intake practices. He particularly cited the case of Joseph Deen, a deaf child that the CRC and Mercy stepped in to help, reflecting that the CRC does not discriminate against any child in need regardless of circumstance.
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.