11 July 2006

Zimbabwe: Integrate Orphans Into Communities


Harare — ZIMBABWE has far too many orphaned children, thanks to the HIV/Aids pandemic, but fortunately has comparatively few abandoned children since many families will make a home for their kin.

There are some orphans, though, who need care outside the family and there are other children abandoned, usually by young mothers who have themselves been thrown out of their homes.

Fostering outside the family and adoption are, regrettably, very rare in Zimbabwe although some brave couples have made a start.

So we have children's homes.

Generally these do the very best they can.

They try to recreate a family environment by having smallish groups of children living together with an adult or couple.

But, as Mutasa North legislator Retired Lieutenant General Mike Nyambuya noted over the weekend, there is the danger of a closed society.

On the positive side, Rtd Lt Gen Nyambuya made the remarks at a community awareness day at an SOS village in his constituency.

The home and the people in the area were making an effort to ensure that children in the village were part of the larger community.

There is much that communities can do.

Simply having the children from the home attend the same schools as their children is a good start which can lead to other things.

The projects officer for the Zimbabwe National Council for the Welfare of Children, Ms Sharon Mukanyi, went further.

She would like to see children from the homes stay with ordinary families during the holidays.

This need not be a major decision for many families.

So long as schooling is integrated, some of their children's friends will be living in a children's home, and there could be nothing more natural than to invite a friend of their son or daughter home for a week or two.

Childless couples may like to think even more seriously.

The occasional kidnapping of a baby or toddler by a desperate childless woman suggests that society needs not change that much to make adoption or fostering outside the extended family more acceptable.

For every woman going to jail for kidnapping, there must be hundreds suffering silently.

In other cultures, adoption is looked upon as a totally normal way for a childless couple to have children.

In fact in some countries there are huge waiting lists for children put up for adoption and a couple has to go through long and rigorous tests before being accepted as potential adopted parents, and then wait even longer for the child to arrive.

Usually such children do much better than those in homes, the small trauma of finding out they are adopted more than balanced by knowing that they were truly wanted and loved.

Childless couples in Zimbabwe wanting to move in this direction step by step could look first at outings and the odd visit to their home.

If things really work out, they could move towards more permanent fostering or adoption.

But in any case they can establish a long-term relationship with a child.

The relationship must be long-term in such cases; no child needs to be abandoned twice.

So it is better than to just see a child once a month for 10 years than take the child in and then return him or her and never see them again.

But however, it is done, the first step, as Rtd Lt Gen Nyambuya noted, is to have a child in a home as just another child in the community, being seen as no different as those in families.  That acceptance costs nothing, and needs no special effort.

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