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Orphanages from personal experience and objective view point

Posted by Sucembe on 05 Jan 2010 at 05:34 GMT

I am 26 years old now, I grew up in a Kenyan orphanage from the age of 5 together with my sister and exited care when I was 18 years old. At the moment I am doing my MA in Child Development. In due process, I have realised that the reason why I and many other young people who have exited care behave the way we do is because of the inadequate care that we got when we were in the orphanage as children. As a result I now run a group for young people who have left orphanages. These young people have shared their challenges and experiences on poor problem-solving skills, poor social skills, emotional and psychological challenges. They did not know how to cook, how to make simple budgets, how to take public transport etc.
Personally, my life has been tough trying to relate with people in the society, who do not understand my past, a past that was never healed because there was no psychologist to help them through the trauma of having seen my mother killed, a past that also reminds me that I was never told I was loved when I was in an institution. After the age of 18 I was left to live on my own, I experienced a sense of solitude, a sense of loneliness and uncertainty. I am an adult but I still long to have that feeling of one caring person or family. My ties with my extended family were estranged and today I have not accepted them as my family, I feel indifferent to them and they show little or no concern for me. They see us as not part of the family, because we lost their culture, language and were brought up away from them.

I was brought up by mothers who never saw themselves as our mothers but as just employees employed to do their job; to wash us, to feed us, keep the dormitories clean and keep our lives moving. Is life all about survival? Why do we want to relegate the role of caring persons in a natural environment to an orphanage? One young person, said, “ I felt like I was in a zoo”, people coming to pity us, people coming and going to bring us gifts. They felt stigmatised and isolated from the society. The society is not made part of understanding the problem, take responsibility neither solving it. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but show me how many institutions are community-owned? Or how many are run and funded by the people from the country’s nationals. Over 70 percent are run by individuals, groups, organisations from the developed countries where these orphanages do not exist.
Orphanages that provide good food, education, health are seen to be the best;
here I am, got a good education and seen to be living a good life. But I am really trying and struggling to patch my social-emotional life; beneath the seemingly good life is a layer of psychological and emotional mire. Why separate children from their natural environment to grow up in an institution?
Young men and women who have left institutional care are trying to forge ahead. The majority of the young people are seeking for a sense of identity, they believe that they were isolated from the society, abandoned and neglected by the society.
Many young people came or were brought to orphanages because they had experienced trauma and some form of suffering in their childhood and at present they are still walking with the traumas of their past. They were promised a good future in the institutions but the future proved more hard and painful to them. They never knew what it would mean to grow up in an institution and to get to face the present as adults. Some appreciate orphanage care because they never knew what it meant to grow up in a family but again they have not realised that their social incompetence as well as well emotional ineptness is because of their early childhood upbringing. The majority of the young people are getting little or no assistance from well-wishers; the government does not have after-care services.

A time as young people we are so clingy, dependent, withdrawn and isolated. It is hard for people to understand these are patterns that were formed early in childhood in the orphanages. How many young people who have exited care are able to establish good relationships in their lives? How many have jobs? How many are able to keep their jobs, how many feel that they are hopeful and part of the society?
We grew up without mentors and just brought up by just mothers and today the majority of the institutions are with untrained staff, unsupervised, and unregulated by the Government. In an interview of 19 care leavers, asking them what they hated most majority said the care givers. The children have no consistent persons in their life; attachment and bonding which are so vital in their development is never given or shown, children are spread on the floor getting no attention and getting little or no stimulation.

Poverty, disease and ignorance has pushed so many poor people to put children in orphanages as orphans, they are ignorant of the damage that they are causing these children. They believe material provision is everything in a child’s development. My question is how are we expected to be better carers if we were never brought up as such, how do we love if we never got that love? How do we dream if the stretch of our minds is confined to the wall of the orphanages?

We need to capacitate families and communities to care for their children with dignity, and we need to look for other safe and caring families for those who cannot stay with their biological families and those who do not have their biological parents alive.
We acknowledge that there are difficulties in even normal families, but it is possible to ensure that children are protected and nurtured in a normal family environment.

No competing interests declared.

RE: Orphanages from personal experience and objective view point

kwhetten replied to Sucembe on 06 Jan 2010 at 21:20 GMT

Thank you for your very important comments about your experience. What you are describing is why it is so very important to follow children over time and identify their longer term wellbeing. You point to the importance of looking beyond the material needs of children and of being able to identify what care promotes wellbeing and what aspects of care are harmful. We hope that our study will be able to contribute as we are following these nearly 3,000 children over 3 years and hope to follow them for at least another 4 years. As many of these children leave the care settings in which they were first identified we hope to be able to look at how they do in forming relationships, feeling a part of society, getting jobs, and their feelings of depression and anxiety. We hope that this will allow us to identify ways in which children who lost their families can be better supported and enabled to face life’s challenges and problems as they grow up.

No competing interests declared.