Day 15: Winter Blogging Challenge
Today I get the chance to share with you, one issue that is close to my heart. They say the way to find out your passion in life starts with asking yourself these questions:
- What keeps me awake at night?
- If money was no object, what work would I choose?
My passion project, which I am fortunate to have also turned into an academic career, falls in the broad field of the rights and welfare of children. In particular, I am passionate about children without parental care, who most people call orphans and vulnerable children. Children without parental care are not only vulnerable because they lost their parent(s), but most of them have experienced abuse, neglect and deprivation. I worked as a child welfare social worker since 2009; my very first job was at the frontline where I was the first call the police makes when a child has been abandoned either at the hospital, in the bushes or toilet. Abandoned children are also without parental care, not because their parents died, but they are unwilling or unable to provide care. Children without parental care often end up in institutions, also known as orphanages. I dislike the term orphanages because not all children living in institutions are orphans, some have surviving parents. The term orphan allows their caregivers/gatekeepers to continue getting funds for their care in institutions so it is better to call all of them orphans. The psychological trauma of being referred to as an orphan when you have parents is something most people hardly think about.
Anyway, I digress. Children without parental care living in institutions, particularly in Zimbabwe where I focus most of my research, are pretty much invisible in society. The government cares for them through subsidies while they are in the institution, but the moment they celebrate their 18th birthday, all support ceases and they are turned into instant adults who have to fend for themselves. Few of us had to leave home at 18, and even when we did, we still had our families to return to for support when things do not go so well. Young adults leaving institutions in most African countries do not have this kind of support and are finding refuge in the streets unless some well-wishers come to their aid. Girls end up prostituting themselves to survive, while the young men turn to petty theft.
I am passionate about this because not much is known about what happens to orphans and vulnerable children when they become adults. What kind of families will they start after growing up in a children’s home? What kind of parents will they become? Why does our government policy take care of them throughout their childhood and allow the care they provide to end at age 18? If yesterday I was 17, why would the event of my 18th birthday turn me into an instant adult? Is there a way to continue providing support at least up to the age of 21, which is what developed countries such as Scotland have done over the years? The government claims the numbers of children in institutions is too small for it to be on the national agenda, but even if 200 children are suffering, is it okay? I understand the whole nation is going through an economic crisis, but we must not forget those who were previously already marginalised before the crisis worsened. Their fate is much worse than some of us who have families to turn to for support.
Imagine being all alone in the world, with no relatives or parents willing to support, care for, let alone love you. I am currently working on understanding the meaning of family for young adults who grew up in children’s homes. We might assume we know what family is, but for the young child growing up separated from the biological family, the reality may be different. I am doing my bit to create awareness around the plight of previously institutionalised youths in my country and I hope to do more. I have had thoughts of starting my own foundation that will provide aftercare support for those leaving children’s homes. One day, it will be a reality.
Thanks for reading.