One of the big lessons I’ve learnt working with orphanages in Uganda is the importance of personal journeys and how much your own life experiences shape the reality of your world and drive you to keep going, even if the task you have chosen sometimes seems impossible. Personal experiences can sometimes trump UN guidelines, government policy or common sense and the greatest lesson we have learnt is it takes time to change hearts and minds and that you can never underestimate the power of people’s personal journeys. Recently I met Mercy. Mercy has a unique and powerful story.
As a young girl she tragically lost both of her parents. Like most children in Uganda, her destiny was to grow up in an orphanage. But her life was changed when a family friend stepped in and decided to foster her. Foster care has been so rare in Uganda (until now) that Mercy really was incredibly fortunate and says today that she feels she owes so much to this family that brought her into their lives and loved her.
Mercy now runs a children’s home where she cares for abandoned children. We’ve been working with her to help realise our joint ambition of finding long-term foster families for those children instead of living in care so that their lives and futures can be transformed – just like hers was.
My personal journey that has shaped the course of Child’s i Foundation – which I don’t often speak about.
When I was 10 years old our family decided to adopt twin boys. We met the children, prepared their bedrooms for them and were excited to welcome them into our home; we had already welcomed them into our hearts. But there was a breakdown and the adoption didn’t happen. I still remember the pain of losing my brothers; I didn’t know how to process the emotional pain and I threw a chair across the room. Looking back, I now know that we should not have spent so much time bonding with them – when there was a breakdown it was very distressing for us as a family and the little boys. Placing children in families is a delicate business for everyone involved and there are systems that need to be followed. As a result Child’s i Foundation is all about setting up social work processes to protect children and families. Process, process, process. If you don’t follow a process then children’s lives are put in danger. Social work is all about assessing risk, making a decision based on evidence that the family can provide adequate care for the child and, when the child is placed, carrying out follow up visits to ensure that your assessment is correct. As a result of my childhood experiences I set up an organisation which above all values good social work to protect children. You, I and everyone who gives time, love and money to keep Child’s i Foundation finding families for children have their own personal reasons for caring. Whatever these are I thank you for them from the bottom of my heart, because they mean we can change children’s lives for the better. We can only do this together, by continuing to respond to that thing inside us that makes us care. So, what next? We have been working with 18 orphanages like Mercy’s to try and help them transform from looking after children in care to supporting them in their families. And it’s going well! There are 50,000 children in 800 orphanages in Uganda but we believe that by working with orphanages to help them transform we will be one step closer to our vision that every child grows up loved in a family. The times are a-changing! We owe this to our ongoing support network – the donors and supporters who continue to believe in us, who continue to listen to us when we talk about the importance of family, of great social work, of love for every child. We can’t find a family for every child by ourselves but we can train and support other organisations to transform the way that they care for children. Thank you for being a part of this journey. Lucy x