New EU funding helps us protect mothers and babies in Sudan
“I am still confident that Sudan’s biggest baby orphanage can be closed.”
Farid Idris, our Country Director in Sudan explains how new EU funding will help Hope and Homes for Children to prevent baby abandonment and close the notorious Mygoma institution for babies in Khartoum.
By Isobel Eaton, Writer and Story Gatherer
Farid Idris is optimistic by nature and he needs to be. For the last 17 years, he has led Hope and Homes for Children’s work in Sudan, overcoming enormous obstacles to give thousands of abandoned children the chance to grow up in the love and protection of a family.
From April 2018, that work will receive significant new funding from the European Union* which has awarded a grant of 240,000 Euros to help Farid and his team establish support services for single mothers and their babies in Sudan. Nonetheless, the task ahead remains formidable.
“Working in Sudan is a challenge in itself,” Farid tells me when we meet during one of his rare visits to the UK.
Sudan has been ruled by a totalitarian regime that promotes fundamentalist Islam since 1989.
“The social stigma suffered by mothers who give birth outside marriage and their children means that around 100 newborn babies are abandoned on the streets and in the hospitals of the capital, Khartoum, every month” he explains.
The babies that survive are admitted to the Mygoma baby institution, the largest orphanage in the country.
A study carried out in 2003 estimated that 1600 babies, mostly newborn, were being abandoned in Khartoum every year. Approximately half of these children would die before they could be rescued. Of the 800 or so who lived long enough to be admitted to Mygoma, as many as 600 would die before they were four.
Many of the babies who did survive suffered severe developmental delays as a result of the physical and emotional neglect they suffered in the crucial early years of their lives. Others developed chronic illnesses due to poor nutrition and the lack of appropriate care.
Working with Shamaa, our local partner organisation in Sudan, Hope and Homes for Children will use the new EU funds to roll out further community-based services to support vulnerable women and their babies and prevent abandonment and institutionalisation.
A crucial part of the work of Farid and his team to date has been to challenge public attitudes to abandoned babies.
“We explain that abandoned children are innocent and cannot be held accountable for the actions of their parents and that these children need their mothers and therefore single mothers should be supported, not punished”, he says.
An important turning point came when the Islamic Scholars Council, which covers 3000 mosques in Khartoum, agreed to use the Friday prayers to spread the message that abandoned babies are orphans and, in Islam, to protect an orphan guarantees you an “equal place with the prophet in paradise”.
“Before, abandoned babies were highly stigmatised and now I can say that after the awareness campaigns this stigma has been reduced”, Farid tells me.
“Even the stigma against women who are pregnant outside marriage has reduced and it is obvious because of the numbers. Because of our work, 700 unmarried women who are pregnant have been able to stay with their families”.
“We also support a Mother and Baby Unit, run by our partners, Shamaa. This was the first service of its kind in Sudan and provides a safe place for vulnerable mothers who might be at risk of abandoning their babies to receive support.”
The challenges that the team faces may be daunting but their dedication to the task is absolute. Until recently, US economic sanctions against Sudan made it very difficult to send money into the country. As a result, there have been times when Farid and his colleagues have worked for months without pay.
Since 2004, Farid and his team have helped to find safe and loving families for 4,000 children under 5, who would otherwise have been left to struggle for survival in the Mygoma institution.
“One of our biggest achievements,” he says, “has been to develop new types of adoptive and foster care in Sudan that are compatible with Islamic teaching and sensitive to the Sudanese context. This means that children who cannot return to their birth families do not spend their childhood in an orphanage”.
And crucially the reforms that Hope and Homes for Children have helped to introduce in Khartoum state have now been completed in 9 other states in Sudan.
Sadly though, the Mygoma orphanage remains open. It currently houses around 300 children and admits as many as 100 new babies every month. Despite these numbers, Farid Idris remains adamant that Mygoma can and will be closed.
“I am optimistic because the rate of admissions to Mygoma has reduced and we have managed to improve conditions and reduce the mortality rate” he reassures me. “We have also increased the number of children who are reintegrated with their birth families or placed with alternative families”.
“At one stage we managed to bring the number of babies in Mygoma down to 50 and we even had one month with no admissions. I am confident we can do that again. It is only a matter of time.”
*The EU funded project, “Development of a safe environment for single mothers, pregnant women and women who give birth outside wedlock and their children” starts in April 2018. It will train and empower child protection professionals to respond to the needs of vulnerable women, set up new prevention and quality alternative care services and see the stigma and discrimination towards single mothers, pregnant women and women who give birth outside wedlock and orphans reduced.