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Rwanda, 25 January 2017: Dreams come true as dedicated social workers find loving families for orphans

© UNICEF Rwanda/2017/Houser
Angelique Mukamana, a social worker in Nyarugenge District, Kigali, works long hours to find foster family for children living in institutions.

By Veronica Houser

Nyarugenge District, 25 January 2017 – Peter* was an orphan. He was abandoned as a newborn, helpless and dependent, before a small group of nuns discovered him in a garbage bin. The nuns raised him until he was eight years old, when he moved to an orphanage.

As he grew older, Peter continued to demonstrate what his caretakers could only describe as “challenging” behaviour. Lacking in familial love and positive role models, Peter was violent towards other children, picked fights and bullied children his own age, and had very poor performance in school, consistently ranking as the last in his class.

Initially, his caretakers at the orphanage and the social workforce from the National Commission for Children made several attempts to find him a family, but he would mostly refuse to go. Only once did his caretakers believe they had finally found a family for him, and they excitedly arranged a visit. But only a few hours later, Peter arrived back at the orphanage. He had taken a taxi on his own, telling his caretakers that he preferred the orphanage. “No family can fit me,” he said.

A few years ago, social worker Angelique Mukamana dedicated herself to Peter’s case alongside her colleague Lydia Bigirimana, a child psychologist. Angelique and Lydia work in Nyarugenge District, one of the three districts comprising Kigali City, on child protection cases as part of the Tubarerere mu Muryango programme.

Tubarerere mu Muryango means “let’s raise children in families” in Kinyarwanda, the local language spoken by nearly all Rwandans. Not only does it capture a ubiquitous cultural value – that the pride of most families is their children – but it is also an important Government programme aimed at finding safe homes and loving families for all children in institutional care. Since its inception in 2013, UNICEF has supported this programme, with funding from organizations like Zonta International and the Displaced Children and Orphans Fund of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

In Nyarugenge District, all children formerly living in institutions have been reintegrated into families. The success of the Tubarerere mu Muryango programme depends on the determination of social workers like Angelique. In addition to facilitating adoptions, Angelique facilitates trainings on positive parenting, teaching families and communities about the importance of a loving and emotionally supportive environment for children. The trainings also seek to promote child participation in decision-making and prevent violence against children, and Angelique has found that adults have begun to seek parenting advice from her and other professionals. Before children are considered to be successfully reintegrated, Angelique follows up with each family on a regular basis for six months to a year, ensuring that the child is safe and happy in their new home.

“Families are learning that with emotional support and a caring environment free of violence, children are capable of developing and accomplishing anything,” Angelique said, “and that they don’t need to live in institutions just because they have some problems.”

Angelique was determined to find a family for Peter. She worked closely with Lydia to find a family with time and patience to devote to him, one with other children who Peter could eventually call brothers and sisters. One of the key components of Angelique’s work was to talk with Peter and listen to his stories, his concerns, and his aspirations. She tried to use this information as the foundational criteria for his family.

Eventually, after careful assessment, Peter’s new family was found. He still gets rough on the playground, but only because he’s playing football or wrestling with his siblings. He has multiple brothers and sisters, and proudly calls his foster parents “Mom” and “Dad.” Peter has even improved at school; recently, he succeeded in his national exams, graduated from primary school, and will enter his first year of secondary school this month.

Angelique smiled when she spoke of Peter. It is children like him who prove that her work within the Tubarerere mu Muryango programme has had a profound effect. She spoke selflessly about the success of efforts like hers, and implored unselfconsciously for increased support so the programme can be strengthened.

Although Angelique’s work is far from finished, it is not difficult to see why she feels fulfilled. “We see such big changes in their lives, even after only three to six months,” she said. “It makes me so proud to see children improving in their new families.”

* The name of the child in this story has been changed to protect his identity.



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