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Orphans

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Angolan Orphans
 
An estimated 110,000 children were orphaned, and large numbers of children suffered the shock of attack, displacement, separation from parents, destruction of home, hunger, inadequate health care, and often crippling landmine-related accidents.

Research completed by Christian Children's Fund in 2004 identified that in Huambo alone, approximately one in ten young people between eight and twenty-five were forcefully abducted at least once during the war. The boys were allocated to soldiers as their personal assistants; the girls provided logistics support services and accompanied the military attacks. Both girls and boys describe extreme physical hardship with long-term after-effects from their injuries.

Photo: Local children play on an abandoned tank adjacent to the Save/Uk office in Huambo.

Not all the children in the orphanages were actual orphans. Many had been abandoned by desperately poor families who had been forced leave them due to lack means to provide for their family because of the war other are children who run away from their families looking for better living.

 

 

Psychological damage & developmental delay

Imagine what it could be like to be brought up in an institution in Angola in the worst circumstances. You could be hungry and bored, with meagre and unvarying meals, bleak mealtime experiences fighting for food or your bottle propped up in a cot.

You had nobody to call your own, to look forward to seeing, to love and hold you. The strict regimentation left no time for personal attention or affection and there was very little colour or variety.

This could be made even worse by disability, illness or abuse.

You may have often had sores and infestations.

Psychological damage suffered in this type of institution is deep-rooted and more difficult to address than physical effects. Many orphans are far from recovering psychologically. This lack of human contact, colour, variety, stimulation, understanding and concern almost always leads to developmental delay.

The problem was made worse by a lack of proper assessment. Abandoned and traumatised children were lumped together in the same programme, or non-programme, of care as those with severe disability.

Our specialist colleagues now tell us, in fact, that it is an advantage for disabled and able children to be in contact with one another, as long as their care and educational programs are tailored to their needs.

Physical punishment was and perhaps still is practiced in some institutions. This can have a terrible effect on the character of the future adult, known as “moral madness” in Angola.

However, let's not forget that up to the middle of the 20th century, a similar situation existed in Britain, where single mothers, for example, could be housed in long-stay institutions for years with a diagnosis of "moral handicap".

 

Photo: A young girl participates in Viana.

 

Are things improving?

Some policies that led to this situation have been totally eliminated (such as the forced population policy and lack of contraception) which led to the abandonment of children through poverty.

Other factors - like lack of training for care givers and attitudes to disability and the present poverty produced by the transition to a market economy - are now on the government's agenda as well as serious reform at the heart of child care in Angola.

So yes, things will improve but not immediately and not for all.

The Angolan Government had invested too little to improve the situation until recently. Solutions over the past ten years were patchy and tended to focus on foreign adoption.

Institution Closure Programme

The latest approach to dealing with the orphanage problem is to close the institutions and return the children to their families.

The problem with this is that there is very little support in place to ensure the huge changes in the children's lives go smoothly.

There may be many lengthy consultants' reports detailing elaborate management systems which the politicians can use to cover their backs with.

However the reality on the ground is that the few systems that are in place to protect the children are wholly inadequate. We're hearing of social workers who have no petrol to visit isolated destitute villages. These are the type of places where over 70% of the returned children will be sent.

We are lobbying to ensure that proper measures are taken to avoid thousands of little catastrophes.

 

An urgent intermediary plan is needed to boost support to the families of children and adults who are returned to the community after years – often a lifetime – in an institution.

We have over 12 years experience of rural community support and are proposing a new discipline – the Mobile Community Worker. They will act as a much needed missing link bringing the various existing community services (state and non-governmental) together.

A network of 10 Mobile Community Workers will cover 10 ‘communas’ (i.e. each serving 10 – 16 villages.) They will be co-ordinated from a regional central office in the area itself.

They will effectively act as a rapid reaction force in an otherwise sluggishly bureaucratic environment - speedily addressing families’ many social problems before things spiral out of control.

We have an outline proposal for a two year pilot project which we hope will lead to a national programme.

In the first year we can set up a network of 10 Community Workers for a population of 36,000 in the poor rural region of Podu Bengela. (Budget 196,000.)

In the second year, the project could extend to the whole of rural Huige. (Estimate cost 1,400,000.)

In year three, the plan would be ready to go national (Estimated cost around 1,000,000 per county x 42 counties). At lesser cost, the project could be targeted at extremely poor rural areas e.g. Luanda, Cabinda and Cunene.

 

Photo: A young girl cares for a 7-month-old whose parents were displaced and unable to care for him.

 

 

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