KHARTOUM (Sudanow) - While the audience was apparently amazed watching the scout, singing and plays performed by the talented children of SOS village, I noticed that a sweet faced female teenager was surprisingly calm and aloof, not sharing this mood with the others.
She sat with some other girls of her age in a state of quietness, contrasting with the atmosphere of the joyful gala organized at the end of summer cultural and sports activities. She and her peers had been watching the events without sharing the others their laughter and cheer. They just smile while their looks were sad and vague.
I approached the girls to discover the secret. I found the girl who is 12-year old putting her arms around a boy sitting on a wheel chair as if she wants to protect him from falling, though he was tied to the chair with ropes. To open a chat I asked her who he was. She replied that he was her brother Safi Eddeen. The boy's face was charming and he was wearing handsome clothes but he was unable to walk, just sitting there and or speaking though he could understand and feel what was going around.
I also noticed a young lad sitting in a far corner of the party ground unmoved by the charming performances. He had been looking down, moving his legs, closing his hands and opening them while his features reflected anger and tension.
The party ended and the guests left but I decided to stay the night in the village established to host children without parental care, to see how this girl lives and how the boy, Safi Eddeen, the youth and the others are staying and how they are coping with life challenges.
The village is one of the international SOS villages first established by the Austrian child welfare worker Hermann Gmeiner in 1949 to accommodate the many war orphans and homeless children who suffered absence of parental care at the end of the Second World War. Gmeiner's worked developed by the years and now the villages are active in 135 countries and territories receiving hundreds of thousands of children, annually.
Officially opened in May 1978, Khartoum SOS village host 15 beautiful and well-equipped houses arranged on a vast area that also harbor a mosque, a house for the director, another one for the grandmothers, a youth facility for the girls and the administrative offices.
On entering the village, you get a feeling that the whole atmosphere of the village was full of love, tenderness and mercifulness created by the substitute mothers, aunts, grandmothers and devoted personnel who represented a model of sacrifice and unlimited kindness.
In Safi Eddeen home, I met his mother Nawal who has been in the village for now 18 years. She received Safi Eddeen when he was only two months old. His disability was not discovered until he reached the age of six months because at that age he had to command the sitting skill. The village regulations forbid admission of any baby with disability. However, Nawal had loved him and became very attached to him, she refused to let go of him, of returning him back to Mygoma House for abandoned children from where he was brought. They started a long journey of medical treatment for him including pelvis, legs and feet surgeries. He now attends the kindergarten regularly.
Nawal had to quit her job at the village to care for her lonely aged aunt but she insists that she will not leave without Safi Eddeen.
Visiting Maria house she told me that she was occupied with the upraising of the children for 28 years putting away her personal life of marriage and forming a family of her own. "I'm proud of raising 18 sons and daughters of 6-25 years old. Three of them have married" pledging that she would not abandon them whatsoever.
She explained that the kids know the women are not their real mothers "we tell them the truth when they are young to spare them the shock when they grow up. Still one of our worries is their frequent inquiries about their real parents".
Her neighbor grandma Tayba, in the house allocated for substitute mothers after reaching the age of 60, had not attended the kids' cultural and sports show because she arrived late after attending a social occasion in Omdurman. When she arrived, the children hurried up to hug her and each trying to get her attention "mum, I had participated in the scout march", "mum, our uncle had come and didn't find you" "mum, shall I take the sugar to the kitchen", "mum, we should not stay here during the bayram holiday, we should travel to our home village "
She had been their mother before she reached the age of moving to grandma house. The departure will not of course terminate the mother/child relationship.
The village director Mouawia Abdulkareem said the houses are meant to provide a warm refuge for the abandoned children where substitute mother represents the first motivator who oversees the child development in all lifestyles. Substitute mothers have to work towards inculcating the basic skills to the children, preparing them for future life and for reintegration within the community at large, but first consolidating fraternal relations between the kids of every home despite absence of blood kinship.
The village administration gives the mother a monthly budget to cater for the children needs of food, clothes ...etc
When the mother takes a leave, another woman, called the aunt, replaces her. The aunt is trained to work as a mother if she prefers to continue work at the village.
Abdulkareem said SOS organization provides all the long term familial care including education, health services, social and psychological support. They live a normal life and pursue their education to university level, he added.
When a child reaches the age of 14, the boys are moved to a youth facility, outside the village while the young girls are taken to another facility inside the village where they stay until marriage. The boys’ links with their substitute mothers continue through frequent visits.
Abdulkareem said the supervisors of the youth houses are picked according to a very strict criteria considering the education background of the applicant which should be related to sociology, psychology or educational addition to abilities of how to treat the adolescents, anger management, rehabilitation, talents development.........etc.
I asked psychologist and coordinator of partnerships and networking Ms. Salma Jamaleddeen, who worked in the village for 23 years, for an explanation of the case of the 12-year girl and the youth who did not share the joy of the said event during the children theatre performance. She said that was one of the negative results of transferring youth out of the family homes they had lived and raised in.
She said the transfer process is conducted within the basic programme of the village, which is telling the truth to the children gradually starting with age of five. At this stage, the kid comes to know that he/she is an orphan. The kid will be taken to visit the parentless children homes and to youth facilities to facilitate for him/her acceptance of the truth.
By the age of 11-14 their identities started to be built where he/she understood his real condition. Therefore the village officials started to prepare those children for this stage since the age of 9 through psychological and sentimental support to help them cope with and get ready for reintegrating in the new position they are about to move to, Ms. Salma said. Such process is applied according to specifically tailored and prepared prospectus and programme.
"Despite all this care and scientific approach, the kids’ undoubtedly do not understand this situation. The only thing they know is that this is their home and the woman is their mother and these are their brothers and sisters why should they leave to unknown location and milieu," Ms. Salma explains.
Therefore, this is the reason why the girls become sad and detached and the boys assume that tense, lugubrious and angry mood. They are afraid of this expected and unavoidable departure from their family safe sanctuaries to confront a society turning its back on them, and stigmatizing them over a fault they did not commit
Coordinator of youth welfare Mahmud Abdul Gafar said living among the residential quarters of Khartoum state is the biggest and most important challenge before the youth. It is the first step in their road towards their full reintegration in the society. However, they are faced with the problems of being rejected by this society. Such social stigma has impacts on them and sometimes it is so hard to the extent that could have devastating impact on shaping of their future. Some of the youths are unable to tolerate this stigma therefore; they suffer psychological disorders such as tension, depression, isolation and declining to pursue education. Nevertheless, the majority of them have succeeded in overcoming this problem, many of them have led a successful career, and marital life, Abdul Gafar said.
Coordinator of youth facility for girls Ms. Mona Mohamed Ahmed said she treated the girls as a sister not an official who work according to regulations. There is a bond of fraternity and love between us. The girls are not wholly separated from their mothers. They keep contact with them and if a girl faces a problem of the sort occurring during this stage of growth and identity consciousness, an understanding and accommodating mother interferes to help the girl surpass the challenge.
Fortunately, the new National Director of the village, Dr. Abdul Rahman al-Mubarak, pays particular attention and care to the welfare of the children and their future. He has a vision that may introduce a genuine change in the village structure and inhabitants.
He told Sudanow that the high walls of the village that separates it from the surrounding society is causing feeling of isolation among these children.
"The first thing that should be done is to break these walls. The children should be raised in natural substitute families. Besides the mother, the existence of a father symbol is a must to maintain stability and tranquility.
KHARTOUM (Sudanow) - Children upbringing in a real family atmosphere will deepen the meaning of rightful living in the children, he said. He added that the existence of a father will not just compensate for the emotional deprivation but it will help in providing the children with important life experiences that will guide them to overcome obstacles and build strong personalities capable of shouldering living responsibilities in the future.
Dr. Al-Mubarak said his vision for the coming change is to transfer some of the families outside the village to live inside the residential quarters in the capital cities of Khartoum State or the states where they initiate relations with neighbors through visits and contacts to give the child a feeling of belonging to the larger society since childhood. The role of the administration is to follow up these families.
The second approach, according to Dr. Al-Mubarak, is to introduce regular families to live inside the village and adopt one or two abandoned children besides their own children.
The third idea was to offer financial support to families willing to adopt children but they can't afford living costs of the children.
Will this new vision heal the emotional fractions sustained by the girl, Safi Eddeen and that angry youth or any other child who undergoes such circumstances? Time will show.
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