Working to give new hope to orphans

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 September, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 September, 1998, 12:00am

CIVIL affairs authorities in Guangde county, Anhui province, and the Save the Children Fund have been working together since 1994 to help children in orphanages return to society.

The programme began with the setting up of small family-style homes in the state orphanage, each housing between four to six children of mixed age, gender and ability.

The children were taken care of by housemothers trained by Save the Children.

In 1996, two flats were bought and two groups of children from the orphanage moved there.

'What we did is to put children in small groups where they could replicate the family environment,' Save the Children child-care adviser Kath Brookfield said.

When the programme began, only two of the children went to school. Now most, including those with disabilities, attend.

Ms Brookfield said most neighbours had been supportive and expressed interest in helping.

Officials from the Ministry of Civil Affairs visited the home last December and were impressed.

Children in the flats reported better health and the local community welcomed the initiative.

The ministry now hopes to promote the Guangde model in other provinces.

Ms Brookfield said: 'Save the Children wants to set up a model so that it can be followed by others, but we will not want to be an alternative to the ministry.' Guangde has changed the traditional attitude of how welfare homes should be managed.

For example, children in welfare institutions eat communally and boys and girls are separated.

Under the new model, a housemother cooks for her 'family' of children in her care in their own kitchens and the children grow up in a family environment with 'brothers' and 'sisters'.

Although such a set-up may require a bigger budget and the housemothers need special training, the children in Guangde are healthier and their medical bill has gone down significantly.

'Ironically, another problem is the attention we get,' Ms Brookfield said.

'We are receiving more visitors and many of them are impressed by what we have done.' In Anhui, Save the Children has been supporting provincial education authorities to promote the integration of disabled children into mainstream education.

The charity is putting together a training manual for welfare home staff and managers in the hope that more orphanages can follow its example.