AFRICA is home to millions of orphans caused by wars, diseases and other calamities. And as such we find ourselves having to look after children who belong to a departed friend, brother or sister. Sometimes you may not have had any prior interaction with the child but they end up in your care.
As we take care of orphans we may think the childâ€™s most important need is school fees. For, as long as we pay the childâ€™s school fees, we assume we are taking care of the child. We put them in school and begin to pay the tuition and provide scholastic materials. When the child begins to have behavioural problems, we say they are not appreciative of the help given to them.
We assume that because they are being helped, they must not make mistakes because they do not have many chances in life. We are like donors who give aid with conditions. This kind of approach or mentality deprives a child of a normal childhood.
Orphans are usually dependant on us and they need care and protection â€” care that is more than tuition. They are vulnerable â€” as they adjust to the loss of their parents, they are moved away from home, separated from their siblings, made to adapt to a new setting, system and approach to life. Yet, like other children, they must go through all the stages of life that come with their own demands.
For instance, during adolescence children become very explorative because they are trying to discover who they are and where they belong. Such issues raise several questions in a childâ€™s mind. If these questions are not answered, they may be reflected in their behaviour.
They may engage in aggressive behaviour (violence against other children) or withdraw from society. Sometimes they become naughty, stubborn and disobedient.
Other times their behaviour may be regressive in form of bed wetting, stammering and sluggish behaviour. It takes time to be able to understand them fully. While in some instances you may need to discipline them, sometimes you just need to listen and empathise with them. You should love, be kind and patient when handling orphans.
We need to create an atmosphere of love and acceptance in the home so that the child can freely interact with others and be able to open up about their experiences, hopes and aspirations in life.
Let home be a place where children belong and not a temporary place to reside. Keep reassuring them that, they can make it in life. Every child ought to live in an environment where there is support; a place that promotes their full potential.
If we fully understand the needs of orphans, we will be in better position to help them. We will begin to look at them as investments and not a burden because they too constitute the next generation of leaders.
The writer is a social worker with Watoto Childcare Ministries
Helping orphans is more than paying fees