A few months after we had opened our doors to the community, Christmas Eve arrived and with it a man whose wife had just passed away the day before after a month long illness. His 5 month old baby, Janet lay bundled in his arms. He had been trying to feed her with a bottle but as a poor fisherman he had no way to continue to buy formula for her.
This was the first time I had come face to face with such raw grief. It hurt to look at him. Because Janet was starting to show signs of dehydration I told her father that we would look after her for a week and he could come back to us with a decision about what he wanted to do.
For the children in our care, we become their guardians until they are 18 years old. The family is required to sign paperwork to that effect so that the kids don't have to be moved around at the whim of family members. Some orphanages have had trouble where a child will be dropped off but as soon as it is old enough to beg or work in the fields they want the child back with them. Then, if a relative has a hard time making ends meet they might want to give the child up again. This is all very confusing for the poor children. So we ask the family to carefully consider and then sign guardianship over to us.
As with all of the orphans we care for, the relatives are then encouraged to come visit every Saturday, for “Family Visiting Hour”, so that the kids can learn about their family. Our aim is to provide a warm, supportive and stable situation for these children, until they are old enough to care for themselves.
A volunteer visiting from the US tenderly helped care for Janet for the first 3 months. Our daughter Jasmine then took over her care and Janet became very attached to her from that day forward.
I'm really excited about watching Janet grow up and develop into a young woman. She has changed so much since we took her into our home over three years ago—and is now a healthy, vibrant, smiley little girl.
This story contributed by Amy Morrow, project manager at African Educational Services