It is easy to make assumptions when we hear of children living in orphanages in developing countries: They must be orphans if they’re living in an orphanage, or their families have abandoned them, or at least an orphanage provides a better environment for them to grow up in when you consider the extreme poverty they’ve come from.
However, the problem with assumptions is that they generally don’t see the whole picture. Assumptions ‘suppose’ something to be the case, without actual proof. This can affect the way we deal with issues, creating new problems without solving the old ones.
Despite our assumptions, orphanages are not filled with orphans or children without adequate parental care. Up to 80% of children living in orphanages globally have families. Due to issues such as extreme poverty where little or no support is available to assist families in crisis, desperate families will place children in orphanages to ensure their children receive food, education and clothing.
And so orphanages create a ‘pull factor’ which encourages family separation. Most of these parents love their children and do not wish to abandon or be separated from them, but there are no other options. But society has given these families limited choices. Our assumptions have given these families no choice but to separate.
Families like Noah and his mother…
Oketch Noah is now 14 years old, yet his last memories of his mother was as a 3 year old boy. He remembers seeing her wave to him and his older brother as she walked into the distance, never to return. Like so many other mothers in Uganda, she struggled to provide for her children after the death of her husband, and couldn’t bear to see them suffer from hunger.
She thought they would be better off without her, and she hoped and prayed that someone would step in and help her children. Not too long after being abandoned Oketch Noah and his brother were discovered by the Ugandan Child Protection Services and brought to Care4kids.
Oketch Noah grew up at Care4kids and was a happy, settled young boy but inwardly he longed for his mum and prayed and hoped that one day they would be reunited.
In 2013, through ACCI’s Kinnected program, C4K started the long process of transitioning to family-based care. When they began tracing the lost families of the children, Noah waited and waited for his mum to be found. He watched as other children were resettled and began to despair, as after 3 years of family tracings there was still no sign of his mum. Social workers at C4K located Noah’s Uncle and advised him he would be resettled with his Uncle’s family, yet Noah still longed for his mum.
Noah was devastated and gradually depression crept in. Staff at Care4kids counselled and worked with him but Noah remained depressed and despondent. His Care4kids community began to earnestly pray that Noah's mum would be found but felt that this was never going to be the case.
Then last October (2015), Noah’s mother heard that C4K had been searching for her, and her children were alive and well.
She set out on foot, walking three days to reach her children.
And for the first time in 11 years, Noah saw and held his mum. He forgave her in an instant for leaving them. From that day on, Noah and his mum began rebuilding and restoring their relationship.
Throughout the six-month resettlement period, C4K social workers worked closely alongside the family. They shaped and directed a healthy reunification process, with Noah spending increasing amounts of time with his mum and reforming their relationship. During each and every family reunification, C4K follow reunification manuals, tools, guidelines and processes provided by ACCI's Kinnected Program, the Ministry of Children Uganda and Child i Foundation.
In April 2016, Noah returned to live with his mum! C4K social workers visited him in June, and he is thriving in school, in life and in his community. When they were there Noah said to them, “Thank you for reuniting me with my mum for I have been missing her for so many years.” Noah’s mum is now part of C4K’s family strengthening program and will receive a goat, attend workshops and learn how to generate an income for her family.
Words cannot describe the images of a mother and child reunion. A family has been restored and Noah has the love of his mother.