“About a decade ago, I quit my job working as a television producer to build an orphanage in Uganda. My decision was the outgrowth of volunteering in baby orphanages there, seeing children who were not surviving. At the time, I thought the best thing to do was build a better orphanage.
A year into planning, I met an expert in child protection and development who talked to me about the research showing that orphanages were not a good option for children and that family-based care was best. But in Uganda at the time, there were very limited options for family-based care – the default was placing children in orphanages. So, we shifted gears to set up a transition orphanage for babies, which we opened in 2010. We invested in training Ugandan social workers to get children back into extended families. And we set up the Ugandans Adopt campaign on behalf of the government, for children who we couldn’t place back into families.
In 2015, I was invited to a regional workshop organized by Hope and Homes for Children (HHC). At the workshop I had a lightbulb moment: We were helping to place babies back in families. But it was a revolving door where we were helping children but not addressing the root cause of family separation. That was when we became partners with HHC, who is sharing their model of deinstitutionalization generated from over two decades of experience across more than 30 countries.
UBS Optimus Foundation is supporting us with our current initiative. We’ve realized through our work that you can’t just close an orphanage. You’ve got to build resilience of the family. You also have to build the child protection system. So what we’re doing now is working with two district authorities to showcase a model of family-based care and advocate for this model across Uganda.
We’re training social workers and volunteers to be the first line of defense in their communities, identifying vulnerable families and providing support so they don’t need to place their children in institutions. And for children who cannot safely live in extended families, we’re training foster families to provide family-based care. The orphanages?
We’re repurposing them to provide community support services for children and families. Collaboration is absolutely key to what we’re doing. No one can do this alone. It’s such a difficult field. You’re making life and death decisions about children’s lives every day. UBS Optimus Foundation has nurtured our collaboration with HHC and other aligned organizations. UBS Optimus Foundation funded the Transform Alliance Africa regional workshop, helping to bring organizations across nine African countries together last November to call for an end to orphanages.
The biggest problem is that people think it isn’t possible to have a system without orphanages. Our role is very much as a catalyst to show it is possible.”
Founder and CEO of Child’s i Foundation