Image: Uwase with her new mum Uwimana and dad Gatete – Jean Bizimana/Hope and Homes for Children
Uwase* was abandoned on the streets of Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, when she was only 10 months old. She was found by the police, and when they couldn’t trace her parents, they took her to an orphanage.
In many communities across the world, families struggling with poverty, disability and discrimination take the desperate decision to abandon their children or place their children in an orphanage, believing they will be better provided for there. That’s why over 80% of children in orphanages are not orphans at all.
But orphanages don’t protect children, they harm them.
Uwase may have been fed and had a roof over her head in the orphanage she was taken to. But she had no one to cuddle her, care for her, or love her.
Because Uwase was born with a disability in her leg, the orphanage staff didn’t take the time to help her learn to walk, like the other children. Unable to move around, she couldn’t interact or join in any games. Instead, she was left alone and ignored. Just existing. Day in. Day out.
Decades of research prove that exposing children to the neglect and abuse that’s common in orphanages can have a catastrophic impact; especially for children as young as Uwase. Like all children her age, to feel safe and happy, to develop and thrive, Uwase desperately needs individual love and attention. She needs a family.
That’s why Hope and Homes for Children is working alongside the Rwandan Government to support vulnerable families to stay together and to close the country’s orphanages by ensuring loving, sustainable family-based care for every child. Whether that’s through reuniting families, or creating new ones.
With the right support, Uwase’s real parents might have been able to bring her up themselves and give her the tailored care she needs. But unfortunately, we couldn’t trace them. So instead, we looked to find her a new family.
“When I see my children growing up together with me and their father, with someone to call mum and dad, and compare that to seeing a child in an orphanage being cared for by different paid staff without a mother or father, it’s very sad.
Uwimana, Uwase's foster mother
Gatete* and Uwimana* are a couple who heard about our initiative of reintegrating children from orphanages into families and decided to adopt a child themselves.
Uwimana explains: “When I see my children growing up together with me and their father, with someone to call mum and dad, and compare that to seeing a child in an orphanage being cared for by different paid staff without a mother or father, it’s very sad. That’s why I made the decision to take care of a child and invite Uwase to join our family – so she can grow up with brothers and sisters and have someone to call mum and dad.”
Our team provided Gatete and Uwimana with specialist training to become foster care parents, and before long we were accompanying Uwase to her new home.
“The training from Hope and Homes for Children really helped me to care for Uwase,” Uwimana says. “Even though I was already a parent, there is something I learned which helped me. I was advised to love this child even more than I love my own children, to avoid harmful punishments, and instead show the child love every time, and protect her from anything that might traumatise her any further.”
Finally, the day arrived when Uwase would move to her new home. Uwimana remembers this moment fondly:
“I’m not exaggerating when I say that on the day Uwase joined our family, I felt the same emotions as when I gave birth to my other children. She was brought home in the evening, around 6:30 pm. When Uwase joined our family, it was a huge celebration, a pure joy. I even bought sorghum flour to prepare porridge for the newborn. I felt very happy, just like a mother who has given birth to a new child.”Uwimana, Uwase’s adoptive mother
With the love and encouragement of her adoptive parents and five siblings, Uwase is thriving. After four years of only crawling on her hands and knees, within four months in her new home, Uwase took her first steps. Now she can walk, run and play and becomes more independent every day.
“Since living with us in our family, Uwase is much happier and more open,” Uwimana says. “She plays with other children and spends time outside which means she is much more aware of what is happening in the community and learns and gains so much more than other children shut away in orphanages.”
"It’s such a joy to see Uwase so happy and loved in my family.”
Our team continued to support the family and ensure they had everything they needed. We provided money to cover Uwase’s medical treatment and physiotherapy each month, for a year and a half. We also gave them counseling sessions and referred them to local leaders and health services for additional support.
Today, Uwase is a bright, happy eight-year-old girl. She’s doing well in school, she loves to play with her siblings, and she feels a sense of love, belonging and safety from having a family.
Her new parents are very proud of her. Uwimana says: “I decided to adopt Uwase because I wanted to give an orphan someone to call ‘mum’ and ‘dad’. If she had stayed in the institution, maybe she would never even have learned to walk. She was always alone in the dorm without anyone to personally take care of her. But now things are different. It’s such a joy to see Uwase so happy and loved in my family.”
The orphanage Uwase was in had 26 children living there. Hope and Homes for Children started closing the orphanage in 2015 and at the end of 2016, we placed the last child in family-based care.
*names have been changed