Manal, a foster mother to many and counting
Through the alternative family care programme, children find a safe place to call home
Manal Saeed studies with three of her children in Al-Mayoma neighborhood located in the Northern part of Khartoum. Despite the school break, she ensures they study and complete the curriculum.
“I know holidays are for fun, we should go out and visit family, but I also study with them. You excel only when you prepare and study in advance,” said 52-year-old Manal.
Manal’s house is home to her four children - one biological child currently in college and three younger ones in her temporary care.
In 2004, Manal signed up for the alternative family care programme, implemented by the State Ministry of Social Welfare with UNICEF support. Today, she dedicates most of her time to nurturing children as a temporary caregiver after abandoning a computer selling business.
“The alternative family care programme supports integration of children with families for temporary periods to support their growth and development,” said Aliah Mohamed, the head of the technical unit for alternative family care system, an arm of the State Ministry of Social Welfare. “The initiative also facilitates families that have the capacity and the commitment to take on the children.”
The Alternative Family Care Programme managed by a technical team at the Children Welfare House (also called Al-Maygoma) in Al-Maygoma neighborhood is also addressing the ever-increasing number of abandoned children that require safe spaces to grow and thrive.
Manal, who lives less than 50 meters from the Children Welfare House, was keen to be part of the alternative family care programme from the beginning.
“This is a humanitarian effort. It is something you do because you want to. It does not matter if you have children or not, many people including me have children, but we want to support,” said Manal.
Manal has opened her home to boys and girls of all ages. In the last few years, she has taken on several children at once and on one occasion, she became a permanent caregiver.
To keep their memories, Manal plants a tree for each child that goes through her home.
“As a temporary caretaker, I have taken on children for as short as one week or three months, while some children stay with me for over four years. One child came to my house at the age of four months, and he is now 15 years old and continues to live with me,” said Manal.
14-year-old Moez who came to Manal’s house while in kindergarten shared “I am very happy here. She studies with me and my brothers. She is kind to us.” He aspires to become a doctor in future.
“I tell mama Manal that I will become a doctor and treat her. When I get a job and start earning, I will be able to make money and then take her for the pilgrimage. I always tell her that,” Moez added.
Being part of the alternative family care programme provides children with more stability especially when they are placed with a family that can keep them.
Manal understands that her role is to support children for a specific period of time to help them grow and improve their developmental skills, but it is not easy to watch some of them leave her house as they find opportunities to other families through the alternative family care programme.
“It is never easy. I get attached even if they stay for one week. We get used to them, but I know my role and I want to continue being part of the programme,” said Manal.
To prepare her for the role, Manal has participated in several orientation sessions with the Children Welfare House. Today she advocates across communities to encourage families to join the programme.