Alternatives to orphanages -- a shelter for mothers and children
“Please, think before you decide to leave your baby. Do not make such a mistake.”This is Nino’s message to all mothers thinking of abandoning their babies.
Nino speaks from experience, as she herself was faced with such a dilemma a few years ago. This 20 year young woman with pale skin and sad eyes tells UNICEF her story:
One day when Nino was coming home from work she was attacked and raped. The only thing she remembers is something hitting her head before she fell unconscious.
Following the rape, Nino was desperate. She had no parents and was living with her two brothers, one of whom was married. After a while she realized that she was pregnant. Nino was ashamed to continue working. The family could hardly make both ends meet and Nino’s brothers could not afford to take care of a niece as well. She locked herself in at home and thought about how she might get rid of her unwanted child.
The support and understanding she needed seemed so far away. If Nino’s mother had been alive she would have understood what her daughter was going through. When Nino’s daughter Mariam was born, Nino could not bring herself to look at the child.
Desperate measures ...
Under communism, Georgia was the wealthiest part of the Soviet Union. Today, more than half of its families live in poverty. As a result, many desperate families send their children to orphanages when things get tough.
The Tbilisi Infants’ House is a shabby and dreary place – an accurate reflection of the tragic histories of each of its little inhabitants. Today, the House is home to 115 child residents: 38 of them have both parents, 67 were abandoned by their single mothers, and 10 (most of them with parents) have been brought in by the police.
A child living in an orphanage in Georgia is often sentenced to a life of poverty, lost opportunities and possibly crime once he or she is released at the age of 18. Most of those who grow up in institutions do so without the necessary skills to find employment and many find themselves pushed or lured into street crime, drug dealing, and prostitution.
Little Mariam could have been one of the residents of the Tbilisi Infants House, locked in the building for days at a time, without any love or care and with few prospects for the future.
But one night, just after Mariam was born, Nino saw her mother in her dreams. Her mother was upset, pointing at little Mariam and quarreling with her daughter. Her message was loud and clear “What are you doing?!” Nino woke up and felt that her mum was with her again, supporting her through this difficult time.
Through a team of local social workers, Nino learned about the newly created Mother and Children’s Shelter in the Tbilisi Infants’ House. The next day Nino was firm in her decision to apply for assistance from the social workers.
Now Mariam and her mother Nino are together at the shelter for single mothers and their babies within the premises of the Tbilisi Infant’s House. This new Shelter was established in response to the increasing number of children abandoned by their parents.
Supported by World Vision International, Every Child, UNICEF and the Ministry of Labour, Health and Social Welfare of Georgia, the Shelter helps mothers cope with the social and financial difficulties that may cause them to abandon their children. It does so mainly by offering mothers and their babies a quiet and safe environment in which they can develop and thrive. The problems confronted by mothers in special circumstances are acknowledged and a team of social workers are there to support them and give them the tools to become self-reliant.
Marine Menteshashavili, social worker and manager of the shelter, says that since April 2003, the shelter has helped to prevent 68 placements in the Infant's Home. The Shelter has housed 37 mothers and 38 infants, and 18 mothers have received psychological assistance and career counseling. What is more, nine babies from the Infant’s Home have been re-united with their families and 18 are now in foster families.
“Now I cannot think of being separated from Mariam even for a second,” says Nino.
Currently, the shelter is home to five mothers and four babies, including Nino and Mariam. We are sitting in a big, light-filled living room with a TV set, where mothers can relax with their babies. Each mother has her own bedroom and they all share a communal kitchen. The mothers and babies look like one big family, bound together with real care and love. And always there are the social workers, supporting the mothers as they try to rebuild their family ties and find jobs.
To date, most of the women who have passed through the doors of the Shelter have managed to find work or have set up their own small businesses. Two women who returned to their home villages were given a grant to buy cows and open a bakery. One woman bought an apartment and opened a small shop. Another has started to work in the local market.
Nino also hopes to find a job and the social workers have promised to help her. It looks likely that she will start by working in a kindergarten. The social workers have already helped her brother to find employment, and Nino will be living with him when she leaves the shelter with Mariam.
“Now I cannot think of being separated from Mariam even for a second,” says Nino. “And I am sure now. There is always a way out.”