Tag: Orphans

A Brilliant Model – Not a Typical Orphanage

So many people tell me that their dream to is to build an orphanage for children in Africa or some other place in desperate need. I understand that the person’s intention is to do good, to rescue children, but I am exceptionally frustrated by this idea that creating yet another orphanage is mistaken as “good”. I have now visited dozens of orphanages and I can tell you there is almost no such thing as a “good orphanage”.

Orphanages do exist, but to create more of them is a BIG mistake in almost any situation. In most cultures it is the extended family and/or community that takes in orphans. It is the role of others in the community, local churches, government and other organizations to provide the vital support to make these informal adoptions work. But many countries have created and embedded the practice of creating institutional care to take in orphans. I liken this situation to prisons – it is a “build them and they will come” scenario. And, once these institutions are built and filled, this sadly becomes a long-term status quo – out of sight, out of mind. And then to try to de-institutionalize children, reintegrate them into families and communities after years of living in an institution where they did not develop bonding, full physical/cognitive/social or language development, these children do NOT transition smoothly back into a family/community or society that they have never been a part of.

HHI strives to offer orphanages training and support to improve the care they offer to the babies and children in them, though it is not our goal to just make “better orphanages”. Our ultimate goal is to undermine why these institutions exist in the first place, reasons such as intractable poverty and women not having any knowledge or say about family planning.

I was excited to have just learned about a brilliant model that bridges the gaps for orphaned children and their extended families and communities. Check out this article in the New York Times, Death in Birth: Fragile Tanzanian Orphans Get Help After Mothers Die.” This is a creative solution that includes families and ensures a successful reintegration of children who are tragically orphaned.

A Story from Calcutta

I recently received this email which sadly, yet exquisitely illustrates why HHI’s education is in such dire need.

Dear Hands to Hearts,

I am so impressed with your work. HOW important and wonderfully successful! Whoever thought this up is a genius and a saint. Several years ago, I visited Mother Teresa’s orphanage in Calcutta. (She had passed away before I was there.) I was astonished at the total lack of eye contact, nurturing, and almost deliberate focus to avoid touch or interaction of any kind. I was in the toddler room and it was here
that I observed this. The toddlers were either craving attention as if their life depended on it or they would have nothing to do with us. Turned their faces away with total indifference. I was so shocked but now am starting to understand that the “natural” nurturing of infants is either not always natural and/or is impaired by no nurturing of the mother by her parents, tremendous fatigue from far too much work and malnutrition, as well, and who knows what other factors.

Unfortunately this story does not come as a great surprise to me. I have heard the same story from orphanages around the world. Working as an orphanage caregiver is very challenging, exhausting and under-valued job. It is emotionally overwhelming, and when caregivers do form bonds to the children in their care, it is heartbreaking for them when a child dies or is adopted and leaves. Often, caregivers are told to not form emotional attachments with the children and the consequences are tragic for the caregivers, and even more so for the children clinging to life and desperate to be loved.

I do not choose to believe that these caregivers are heartless, but rather that they shut-down a part of their own humanity to be able to function in a orphanage situation. They work in institutions where they are bombarded with dozens or even hundreds of babies/children who are thrown away, who are often ill or dying, and whose needs they feel incompetent to meet. They have mouths to feed and diapers to clean; water to carry and food to prepare (often after they go to market to buy it); hospital visits to make and medicines to give; noses to wipe, baths to give; toileting to teach and floors to mop; laundry to wash and bugs to shoe away… and the list goes on and on. Over and over and over again!

HHI has a piece of the solution. By empowering women with knowledge, acknowledging the value of their caregiving, teaching how their everyday actions build brain development for a lifetime… these women can and do rise to their best, and the children rise with them.

I look forward to the day when we reach Calcutta, and more to the day when we are not needed at all.

HHI’s Village Mommies

Since last June, Sujatha, HHI’s Master Trainer in South India, has been leading HHI trainings for village mothers. In only 9 months, she has now served 32 villages, training mothers and grandmothers and in some places fathers and grandfathers who are welcomed to participate. The results are now rippling through this rural area of South India, where most families live off of agriculture or micro-businesses, but remain in the grips of poverty.

I have been sharing beautiful stories and pictures from these trainings since they began, but it wasn’t until a week ago that I was able to visit this area myself. It is a whole different experience first hand, much deeper, richer, and more multi-faceted. My first visit was to a tribal group, who had only just moved out of living in a small set of caves a few years ago. I described some of that experience in the blog entry before this one.

Then I was able to visit an amazing program called Reaching the Unreached, where HHI has provided training to foster mothers who parent orphaned children, many that are HIV+, but living healthy and full lives due to the love of their new families. When I entered the preschool classrooms at RTU, my heart beat in my throat when all of the children jumped to their feet at the sight of Sujatha and immediately began singing and dancing to one of the songs she taught them last summer. See the joy:

I also was able to visit 4 rural villages where I met dozens of mommies, their babies and children, all of whom had attended an HHI training. They gathered together to talk to me, to share their stories about the impact of what they learned from HHI and the difference it has made for their children and in their communities. Again and again, I heard reports that the women had changed their hygiene practices; boiling feeding bottles, covering food from flies, bathing the children more often and using soap, and that they kept themselves cleaner, especially in preparation for breastfeeding and before they prepared food.

They told of feeding their children a wider variety of foods to provide more nutrients. Women were also practicing baby massage, on their babies and by request for their older children. Many of the mommies also reported that they spent more time interacting with their children, talking and singing to them more often. They noted that their infants were learning language faster than their older children had. Best of all, in 3 of the 4 villages, the women reported that they were so happy with the lessons they learned from HHI, that they were teaching their friends and family members so they could better provide for their children. One of the HHI trainees was an Assisting Nursing Midwife. She works with pregnant mothers around the district and she eagerly told me that she now teaches her expectant and new mothers about the importance of hygiene, nutrition and early childhood brain development.

The seeds of knowledge that HHI has planted are taking root in the fertile soil of capable women who may have been deprived of a formal education, but are intelligent and want to provide the best life possible for their children. Knowledge is a gift that keeps on giving, creating a ripple effect that is now showing up in the health, weight, and language development of the youngest generations of 32 villages (just in the last 9 months in Tamil Nadu alone). HHI will continue to promote health, emphasizing the daily actions any parent can take to pave the way for a better tomorrow.

Visiting in Kerala

This week I have been visiting HHI’s training center in Kerala, India. For the last few days, ten pre-school teachers participated in HHI’s education about the importance of early childhood development and they learned how they can best support children’s healthy growth and development during their most critical developmental time. These women work for the government’s ICDS program, which are early childhood development centers that focus heavily on improving nutrition for the villages with the most disadvantaged and high risk children.

And, of course, they enjoyed singing, dancing and playing with the children! They shared their favorite songs and dances with me, then asked me to return the favor. I put on an impressive Hokey Pokey dance, but I allowed no photographic evidence of this, you will just have to trust me!

Some of these women have been working in their jobs for 26 years! But, they were eager for the information from HHI. They appreciated the small and interactive classes, where they were asked to be creative, to talk, to share and to come up with solutions that they face daily with children. They were excited to learn lessons about child development and came to recognize that some of the children in their centers are delayed, but now they knew how to better support them. The women were also enthusiastic to take their lessons learned back to share in their monthly Mother’s Meetings in the villages, where they are the main community resource person for all parents. They left the training with a greater grasp of child development, new tools and information to lead children and their families to success and with a new sense of pride in the importance of their work.

Now, I am off to Tamil Nadu to meet the village mommies taking HHI trainings.

The Giving Tee – Where Goodness Grows!

I just heard the neatest story about HHI’s new Tiny Revolutionary tee shirt. If you haven’t seen this fabulously designed, beautifully made and high quality tee shirt yet, here is how adorable it is -

Tiny’s tees attract people, parents in particular, who are inspired to raise their children as positive forces for change. Recently Tiny created a specific tee to benefit the women and children of Hands to Hearts, they call it a “Giving Tee”. For every HHI Giving Tee they sell, we get $20 (which immediately becomes $40 for HHI, given that we have a matching grant going on now).

I talked to BreeAnne, one of the owners and master design-divas at Tiny and she told me that HHI’s Giving Tee has been a big hit, so much so that one mom recently purchased this shirt as a gift for all the caregivers in her son’s childcare center. I asked if this mom would be willing to share about what she did and why.

Here is Jennifer’s story of how she made goodness grow from the Giving Tee:

“My son attends the University of Houston Childcare Center and started there in the infant room. As a first time mom, I was very anxious about his being cared for by non-family in a group setting. From the first moment he started in the infant room, I was wowed by the wonderful teachers and student workers who cared for him. I had such peace of mind knowing that my son was being cared for by a group of such incredibly nurturing women. My son has since moved into one of the toddler rooms and is blessed with terrific caregivers, but I will never forget his experience in the infant room. I knew I wanted to do something special for those teachers and student workers for the holidays, something that would be meaningful to them. I had a eureka moment when I saw Tiny Revolutionary’s new Gandhi “Where There is Love, There is Life” tee’s. When I read about Hands to Hearts International’s training program, I was moved as I thought about the babies in world who live without love and those who will be able to experience love as a result of HHI. What better gift for my son’s teachers and student workers than the “giving tee” “Where There is Love, There is Life” that not only acknowledges and celebrates the love that they express to the infants in their care but also contributes to HHI and supports its mission to bring love into the lives of infants across the world. I also ordered a “Where There is Love, There is Life” tee for my mother.. She has shared so much love with her first grandchild, and their bond is so special, that I knew the order would not be complete without a tee for her as well.”

How cool to see that goodness grows in so many directions! Proof that “where there is LOVE, there is LIFE”. A big thanks to Jennifer, all the loving caregivers who serve her son and of course to Tiny Revolutionary!

Now go get your Tiny Tee in honor of those you love – click here!