Leaving no child behind: Marie’s story

“Since I am a man”, said Marie’s father, “I thought I could not care for a child with disabilities, particularly my daughter Marie, after the death of her mother. I just could not imagine providing adequate care to such a child as well as her siblings. Other family members persuaded me to place the child in the nearest orphanage and that’s what I did.”

Today Marie is a happy, eight-year old girl, growing up at the heart of a loving family but the start of her life was overshadowed by tragedy. Her mother, Mulisa, died giving birth and Marie was born with many special needs. Marie’s father, Mukiza, and her two brothers and two sisters were traumatised by what had happened and struggled to bond with or care for the new baby. They felt that Marie had brought only unhappiness to their family. In June 2009, when Marie was two years old, Mukiza made the decision to take her to an orphanage and leave her there.

Marie cannot play by herself. She needs someone to hold toys for her to see and touch. She cannot walk or sit and she cannot speak. When our team in Rwanda first met Marie in the orphanage, she was confined to a bed, day and night, unable to move or interact with the world in any way. No one there knew how to care for her or believed she had a future.

Our first priority when looking for alternative care for children living in institutions is to see if it is possible to reunite children with their birth families. The majority of children in orphanages have family that could and would care for them if they had the right support. Our team in Rwanda are expert at family tracing, and looking through Marie’s file, they found an address for her father, Mukiza. Working with colleagues in the local social work department, they arranged a meeting with Mukiza to explore the possibility of Marie returning to live with her family.

At first, Mukiza was extremely resistant to the idea of Marie coming home. He did not see how he would be able to look after a child with special needs at the same time as caring for his other children and continuing with his job as a cook in a secondary school. It was clear to our team that the family was still struggling to come to terms with the loss of Mulisa. They felt that seeing Marie again would only add to their grief.

Over time, our specialist team worked with Mukiza and his children to help them see that being reunited with Marie offered a way to deal with their grief and make their family whole again. One of Marie’s older sisters, Gatesi, told her father, “Dad, welcoming Marie would help us as a family to manage the end of the mourning process for our mother.”
Hope and Homes for Children, working with Rwandan government professionals and our local partners, helped Mukiza and his family to develop the skills, the understanding and the confidence they needed to bring Marie home and to care for her. Thanks to the careful work carried out by our team and our local partners to prepare both Marie and her family for the move, it has been a great success.

Now Marie is the centre of attention in her home. Her older siblings take great care of her and play and joke with her. Even relatives and neighbours who had shunned Marie as a baby, now visit and share the joy the family feel at having her home again.

Marie’s life has been transformed by the individual love and attention she receives. She is beginning to communicate, using signs, her ability to hold and handle objects is improving and she is beginning to be able to move by herself. All her brothers and sisters are delighted with her progress and help and encourage her, but Marie is particularly close to her 25-year-old sister, Gatesi. She washes and dresses Marie and helps her travel to the physiotherapy and play sessions she needs to stimulate her development.

Our staff report that Marie’s health is improving and she is gaining weight. She is happy and sociable and Mukiza is confident that his daughter will continue to thrive, now that she has the love of her family to support her. He says, “My daughter had no future because of my ignorance, but now I am happy with all my children. I will do my best to protect them and satisfy their needs, especially Marie who needs special attention and affection.”

*The success of our work in Rwanda depends on a close working relationship with Rwandan government professionals such as social workers and psychologists and the support of international organisations including USAID/DCOF, UNICEF and Global Communities.