X-Factor for Babies

You might not know, but when I first went out to Uganda I was volunteering at a baby orphanage. There were 50 babies in care and every child wanted love and affection from me as well as from every other strangers who walked through the doors. I thought I was doing good giving these kids my love and attention.

Volunteering at an orphanage in Uganda in 2005


It was only when I went back home with a video of me being rugby tackled to the ground by children and I showed it to a friend Louise Hawley, a Social Worker who specialises in early childhood development that I questioned this. I was expecting the standard response of “well done, don’t you do a fantastic job” but instead, she cried. When a baby is born, and loved by someone like their Mum or Dad, there is a part of their brain that connects together to form a healthy attachment. It’s fused together and this is the foundation which enables them as a human being to form healthy relationships with others. Louise told me: “These children are the most damaged children in the world as they have no attachments and they are begging strangers to love them.” I had a bit of an epiphany thanks to Louise.

I realised that when I walked down the street in my village of Rotherfield no child runs up to me wanting a hug because they have a parent or someone who loves them. They have secure attachments. Children in orphanages have no one. It’s like being in a warped version of X Factor whereby they have to perform to get love and attention. ‘Pick me, choose me, love me…’ If a baby does not receive love from someone constant then that part of their brain never fuses together and they can have difficulty loving and being loved. In an orphanage setting it can be very rewarding for volunteers as you feel you are doing a ‘good thing’ with babies and children crawling over you making you feel good inside but it is the worst thing in the world for children.

Children need continuity, stability and the knowledge that someone in their world has got their back and loves them. Once this is established, the bond can be very gently handed over to someone else in the hope they will grow up being able to love and be loved.

At Malaika Babies Home in Kampala we try to keep children in our care for as short a time as possible. Years and years of research has shown that any longer than six months in institutional care can cause long term damage to children and babies. We operate a key worker system which means every child is assigned a carer, so they have this stability.

We do not let people come to our centre as tourists. We are not a sweet shop. When visitors come to our centre they are escorted around and never left unattended with children. Would you allow strangers to come into your living room and pick up your baby? When the Panel approves adoptive parents we have a bonding period to enable the bond the child has with the carer to be passed to the new parents. Very gently and very slowly.

I am very proud of our team as they provide such great care to the children. No child begs visitors for love – they simply don’t need to. None of our children are in a talent contest.

There are many good volunteering roles out there. If you would like further information about volunteering and want to research the subject please visit the REPLACE campaign.

For further information here are some very useful sites:

Child Safe Movement

Orphanages Not The Solution


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