In 2009, Pruckeria Mutendezangohe, a mother of five, was overwhelmed by a sense of betrayal after her foster daughter delivered a child and dumped it on the streets. Mutendezangohe, 53, had rescued her foster daughter from the streets three years earlier.
Three years later, Mutendezangohe learnt that the baby was living at Mpore PEFA, an orphanage located in Kicukiro District. The orphanage was in the process of closing as part of the government’s plan to ensure all children are brought up in a family set-up.
She applied for and was given permission to take the child under her wings.
“I took the little girl as my grandchild because I had previously rescued her mother from the street and paid for her school fees. I could not leave the child of my foster daughter to suffer since it was my obligation.”
The four-year-old girl is now living with Mutendezangohe in Muhima Sector, Nyarugenge District as one of her five children. She is now in nursery school.
That is the spirit that the National Council for Children (NCC) is encouraging – that the Rwandan community accommodates children still in orphanages and to prevent any development of such structures.
This comes a year after the institution started to implement the strategy for national child care reform, which is championing the process of closing orphanages.
With one year left to the deadline, only three of the 34 orphanages spread across the country have been completely closed, thus integrating over 700 children in several families.
Over 2,000 children are still waiting for their parents, relatives or well wishers to take them in.
Of these, 70 per cent still have relatives that have failed or refused to come for them, the council says.
“We have realised that in most cases, children are sent to orphanages, when for example, a mother dies and the father pretends to have difficulties to raise the child, or when girls just dump children after delivery,” said Alexia Mukashema, the adoption and orphans officer at NCC said.
According to Mukashema, Orphelinat Saint Noel de Nyundo was the first orphanage to open its doors in 1954 with the aim of helping children from poor families – even those with parents.
“At the time, the religious well-wishers who started the orphanage did not think about empowering the families to ensure they raise their own children,” Mukashema says.
This orphanage in Rubavu District is owned by Nyundo Catholic Diocese.
Its administrator, Augustin Twagira blamed parents ‘for ignoring their responsibilities of raising their children’ and thus sending them to orphanages with the belief that they will get clothes and school fees.
“It’s a shame,” Twagira told The New Times. “But ours is a charitable activity from the Catholic Church and not business centered like some other facilities. Which is why when government announced their phasing out, some were not happy.”
Some of the business minded orphanages are those that opened doors after the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi to cater for children who lost their families and relatives during the period. Recently, three more orphanages opened up, even after the plans to close the existing ones were underway.
“We are very thankful that some people took up children and catered for them, because it was an emergency. But now we are telling Rwandans that there is no need for orphanages,” Mukashema said.
Orphelinat Saint Noel de Nyundo has over 400 children waiting for families or individuals to adopt them.
Since December last year, 207 children have found families.
The slow process, according to Twagira is because ‘Rwandans have not fully embraced the spirit of adopting children.’
Grace Mukabirasa, whose family recently adopted a baby girl from the orphanage echoed the same view.
“The society should be concerned about the children scattered out there. If you plan to raise three children, there is nothing wrong with giving birth to two and adopting the third one,” she advises.
In 2010, the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion signed a contract with Hope and Homes for Children, an international NGO that deals with sheltering the needy children. The ministry tasked the NGO to carry out the reintegration and adoption programme.
As part of the government’s strategy of child care reform. The move aims at transforming Rwanda’s current child care and protection system into a family-based one. It also needs to ensure opportunities for the effective transformation of existing orphanages into child centered community based services.
Since then, over 700 children were taken from three orphanages, namely Mpore Pefa/Kicukiro, La Cite de la Misercorde/ Huye, Centre Girimpuhwe Remera / Gatsibo.
The children found new families through three distinctive arrangements. These include reintegration; where a children are returned to their families, through adoption; where a family takes on a child and treats them like their own, giving them rights to property (inheritance). The third is foster care, an arrangement where parents take a child through their childhood and let them fend for themselves once they grow up.
If not reintegrated, NCC officials say they encourage adoption because children, not only need to have a family, but also to enjoy such rights that come with adoption. In any case, a foreign application to have the children is considered a last option.
According to NCC, most of the families that received children are in the adoption category.
But they say a lot is still needed, as only one third of the children have been integrated a year after the policy was announced.
NCC is also optimistic following the recruitment of 60 psychologists and sociologists to drive the exercise at the decentralised entities.
They will also carry an evaluation of the families prior to giving them a child. Some of the things to consider are how a family socialises with neighbours and how it responds to the government’s programmes.
The capability of the family to look after the children will also be considered at some point.
“Some families might think that government will assist them if they take a child, but it is out of question. One takes a child when they are determined to feed them because this is not a tool for begging,” said Mukashema.
After implementation of the orphanages closure, NCC and its partners will continue prevention of their possible redevelopment and follow up of the children in families.
By Jean de la Croix Tabaro & Maria Kaitesi, The New Times