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An alternative to Orphanages

Defined by Hope and Homes for Children as ‘any residential setting where children and young people are subjected to an institutional culture’, institutions have become the default of many country's care systems. UNICEF estimates that there are over 2 million children living in orphanages in Uganda. To those unaware of the truth, orphanage walls may seem like a symbol of safety and protection to these orphans, however exposure and research have revealed that these institutions cause more harm than good to the development of children.

You might be surprised to learn that the definition of an ‘orphan’, as stated by UNICEF and its international partners, is ‘a child who has lost one or both parents.’ This means that any statistics you read on ‘total orphans’ in Africa or a specific African country includes children that have only lost one parent. Sub-Saharan Africa is said to have the highest number of orphans in the world, however up to 90% of these orphans live with a surviving parent, a grandparent or relative. If a child had lost only one parent in the Western world they may find it offensive to be labelled an ‘orphan’, however that is how leading organisations define such a child in Africa. Although it is devastating for a child to lose a parent it does not automatically mean they are alone in the world and even when a child is a ‘double orphan’ who loses both parents, it may not mean they now have nowhere to live and no one to care for them.

When a child is placed in an orphanage, not only do they become disconnected from their communities and families, they can begin the transition of placing all their trust and love into the institution. In turn the family bond is weakened and the chances of reintegrating children back into their families and community becomes increasingly difficult, and in some cases impossible. This is not the only harm institutionalisation inflicts; child development, difficulty forming attachments, reduced psychical growth, a lack of education, and negative self-image are a few of the researched negative impacts from institutionalisation. The negative effects stem from a lack of continuous and stable loving parental care. In Romania, the Bucharest Early Intervention Project, found that for every 2.6 months spent in a Romanian institution, a Romanian child fell behind one month of normal growth, alongside profound negative effects on their mental and emotional development.

The alternative to institutionalisation? Supporting parents and communities. This provides communities an opportunity to be responsible for their children and overcome the challenges they face. While our four main projects (Feeding, Protecting, Educating, Skilling), are intertwined creating a holistic approach to the issue, our Ewafe Home is specifically run to offer an alternative to orphanages.

Derived from the Luganda language of Uganda, Ewafe translates to 'Where We Belong.' Our Ewafe project was established in 2013 to address the urgent requirement for safe, emergency care for children that avoids prolonged institutionalisation and instead offers a pathway to family-based care. The Ewafe project, designed to aid abandoned children, steps in when vulnerable children are referred to us by local authorities and community members. In 2023 alone we have rescued 20 children in Kampala from dangerous situations and have 85 children living in our Ewafe home.

The majority of the children under our care have surviving relatives, whether it's parents or extended family. However, when they come into our care, they often have no knowledge of the whereabouts of these family members. Each child's situation is unique: some have been sent by impoverished families to work as 'house-help' for more affluent families in Kampala, and have subsequently run away or been abandoned, making it challenging to reconnect with their families living in remote villages. Others have been removed from their families due to abuse, while some have been completely abandoned by their parents.

Regardless of the child's circumstances, our commitment is to provide an alternative care solution. Sometimes, the solution is straightforward, involving visits to villages to locate and reunite families. In other cases, families may be untraceable or unsafe for the child to return to, this is when we seek suitable foster families. Our model of Rescue, Rehabilitate and Reintegrate has an underlying ethos of finding family care for children. When a child is referred to our project, our team of social workers begin searching for immediate and extended family members, and where possible, put in place reintegration plans to bring these children home. So far in 2023 we have traced 36 families and 19 children have been reintegrated back with their families. In cases where children are not able to be reunited with their own immediate or extended families, we are recruiting, assessing and training foster families. Through placing children who have been abandoned in families, their needs are taken care of.

Our Ewafe project, and subsequent projects, have a long term positive impacts on strengthening the existing social structures and practices in the communities we work in. By providing a family based care setting for every child where they not only survive but thrive, in turn reducing the number of children becoming abandoned in Kampala's slums.

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