Children in Need...
                     The Care of Orphaned Children 

Special Day-Centre at Chipata
One of the biggest challenges facing missionaries and N.G.O's in Africa today is the care of children who have been orphaned.  The World Health Organisation estimates that there are 11.6 million orphans as a result of the Aids Pandemic which has affected Sub-Saharan Africa.  In addition, war, conflict and natural disasters in several countries have contributed to this statistic.

The cumulative effects of all of this is a vast number of children suffering on a large scale from the effects of psychological and material trauma.

In African culture, if both parents die, the extended family (i.e. aunts and uncles) will assume responsibility for any children orphaned, taking them into their homes.  This system of care, concern and social responsibility has become overloaded in some areas of Africa due to the high prevalence of Aids.

During one of my visits to Africa, I was very moved and touched when present at a village funeral, where I met Maria.  Both of her parents had died within a relatively  Children engaged in Dramashort period of time.  As was customary, the relatives were deciding who would take which child. Suddenly, Maria, the eldest orphaned child cried out "I have lost my Father and Mother... please do not take (separate) my brothers and sisters from me!"  An orphaned child is often the victim of total separation from everyone significant or close to them, often leaving children excluded, isolated and emotionally insecure, confused and disturbed.

It is easy to forget that the orphan has most likely watched and cared for parents who may have been sick for several months.  They, (the children) in all probability, have watched their parents die.

Given the stigma which surrounds Aids and the major adjustments a child may face after the death of a parent, physical and emotional scarring may be the end result; consequently, a need for counselling may occur.  Above all an experience of understanding and love is essential.

For me, memories of another young African girl spring to mind.  During her parents' illness, she remained active, caring for her parents and performing all the household tasks that daily needed to be done.  Following the death of her parents, she was adopted into a family, extremely well treated, sent to a boarding school with other family members and absorbed fully into the family unit.  Six months later, her changed appearance shocked me totally.  She was withdrawn, appeared lifeless and lacked any significant emotional response.

While she was provided with material needs; no one had attempted to help her through an experience of "Bereavement and Loss."  Children can find it so difficult to express emotions and may internalise hurt and pain, leading to general confusion.

Selling fruit for income

While it is important to provide shelter, food, clothing, school fees etc; an even greater need exists to be listened to, understood and comforted on a feeling level.  Children at any age are extremely vulnerable, and teenagers even more so.

The F.M.S.A. provide programmes aimed to assist in the care of orphans.  In Chipata on the outskirts of Lusaka, Zambia, and in Chipinge, Zimbabwe, nurseries and feeding centres provide an oasis of love and concern for young people.  It is so important to offer life skills and character formation to young adults.  Care of the orphaned child has far reaching consequences and may require a long-term commitment, often lasting twenty years or more!!  Being self-sufficient, earning their own living, is a crucial factor for any young African.

Teenagers learn life-skills
Training and life-skills must be promoted to break the chain of poverty, degradation and want; thus avoiding an accumulation of petty crime, street children, and an increase of teenage dysfunction

For the Franciscan Sisters involved in this ministry, great joy and fulfilment is found in offering support to such children as they grow, develop and mature to adulthood.  The Sisters daily strive to ease pain and bring healing to early "Loss" experiences.  Such loving commitment establishes and makes secure a cycle of love and care.  Orphans, who have subsequently reached adulthood in turn reach out and extend a helping hand to other children in need.

                                                                                        Sr. Miriam Duggan F.M.S.A.