15 April 2019

Reuniting families: Tom’s story

“Now I’m back home, I’ve found my smile again.” Tom’s story

The majority of the eight million children who remain confined to orphanages today are not orphans. Eighty per cent or more have at least one parent or close relative who could care for them with the right support. When we begin work to close an orphanage, our priority is to reunite as many children as possible with their birth families and to ensure that those families have the resources they need to stay together and to thrive.

When Tom was eight he fell seriously ill and had to undergo emergency surgery. His family was already struggling to earn a living from the small piece of land they farmed in a rural part of Uganda. They could not afford the medical care he needed.

One day, a relative visited the family and convinced them that the only hope for Tom was to take him to the orphanage in the main town. Tom would be given the treatment he needed and free schooling there, the man reassured them. And so Tom’s family made the heart-breaking decision to take him to the institution and leave him there. “I felt confused, angry and alone”, Tom remembers, “but I realise now they had no choice.” Tom’s grandmother, Beatrice, now 80, says, “It broke our hearts to put Tom in the orphanage, but it was also a relief to see him get the care he needed to live.” Always a shy boy, the first few months in the orphanage were terribly lonely for Tom who did not speak the same language as the other children. Over time his health did improve but the price he paid was to spend ten precious years of his childhood alone, without a family to love or guide him.

The orphanage where Tom lived will close for good in 2019

Last year, thanks to your support, we were able to continue working with the manager of the orphanage who had come to see that the children in her care needed more than food, shelter and schooling; they needed families. Together with our partner, Child’s i Foundation, we are helping her to reunite children with their relatives and support vulnerable families to stay together so that no new children are brought to her gates. As part of the closure programme, we contacted Tom’s family who told us they were desperate to bring him home. We reassured them that this time they would have the support they needed to provide for their son. After a full assessment, Tom was slowly reintroduced to family life and has now returned home.

Today, Tom has completely come out of his shell. He loves taking care of his younger siblings who all look up to their new-found older brother. He is thriving at school and his ambition is to become a broadcast journalist. The orphanage where Tom lived will close for good in 2019 when all the remaining children are living safely in families. The facility will become a Community Hub, providing family support services so no more children in Tom’s situation have to spend their childhood in an orphanage just to survive.

Our work in Uganda

The majority of the eight million children who remain confined to orphanages today are not orphans. Eighty per cent or more have at least one parent or close relative who could care for them with the right support. But all over the world, poverty, disability and other challenges put families under intolerable pressure to make an impossible choice and give up their children to institutions. When we begin work to close an orphanage, our priority is to reunite as many children as possible with their birth families and to ensure that those families have the resources they need to stay together and to thrive.

In November 2016, Hope and Homes for Children, Childs i Foundation, Alternative Care Initiative and nine other organisations , representing seven countries across Africa, became founder members of the Transform Alliance for Africa. The vision of Transform Alliance is: “One day, in an Africa free of institutional care, all children will belong and grow up in a safe and loving family”. Its mission is to be the catalyst that will end institutional care of children in Africa by bringing together our collective voices, knowledge, practice and experience to strengthen families.