Uganda’s Government doesn’t want children in orphanages. It’s bad for the kids, bad for Uganda’s image. Instead, those of school age must go to their wider families — to grow into self-reliant adults at the heart of society, not institutional misfits in a dependency culture. This is the policy of so called “repatriation” — resettling orphans back with what family they have. Though it makes scant allowance for the rejected and those with no known family, it is more sustainable than expecting orphanages to carry every child that has ever been in need.
Some balk at the word “Repatriation”, arguing that it implies sending people to a foreign country, and so is inappropriate. In fact, "Repatriation" is the term widely used in Uganda. And far from suggesting deportation to a foreign country, it means sending people “back home” — albeit a home they’ve never known! That is a pretty accurate if sardonic reflection of the truth. I use it here specifically it because it is uncomfortable language. Repatriation is an uncomfortable topic.
Few NOTDEC Uganda children were abandoned at birth and have absolutely no known family. Most have relatives; some, a father living locally. Once they have started school, we now have no choice: we must begin finding out whether each child could live with any of their family; and the family is visited to see their circumstances and discuss options.
The picture shows Eric and Jack whose parents were killed in a road accident and who now live with their Grandma and Aunt. This gives you the flavour of being "back with the family" — not at NOTDEC Uganda but with plenty of other children watching from the wings!
The Nitty Gritty
None of this is easy. Families who say they will take a child, may change their mind — even after the child has arrived — or fail to feed them properly. Where children are returned, NOTDEC UK continues to pay school fees: the family, however, may not send them to school, treating them instead as cheap labour. If the father has remarried, his new wife may take against her step-children — particularly boys, where there are inheritance conflicts with her own children.
Besides the wider family, each area community has a Local council Chairman, a Community Development Officer, local clergy and a local primary school head teacher. All these authorities need to be consulted by NOTDEC Uganda social workers and may be involved in a child's repatriation — sometimes smoothing family differences that might otherwise disrupt the child’s care.
“Repatriation”, then, requires lots of discussion beforehand and, once it has happened, ongoing monitoring to make sure the children are still happy and properly cared for. All this means hours and hours traveling and talking: NOTDEC Uganda now employs four social workers, three of whom spend most of their time liaising with families. And that’s expensive
Is This Really for the Best?
Especially in rural areas, Ugandan society is solidly based around the family. So returning children to their families genuinely is better for the children in the long run. And it also frees up slots at the orphanage.
But it is not the cheap option. And we certainly don't advocate it because it frees up spaces for more babies. NOTDEC Uganda has always been about nurture — not just saving lives.
When children are returned to their families, will their sponsors still be happy to pay the ongoing school fees, plus the cost of visits by a social worker first to liaise with their families and later to check regularly that each child is fit and happy? Though repatriation of children usually is very much in the child’s long term best interest, supporting a child is far more appealing than what may look very like subsidizing Uganda’s social work budget. And the Ugandan Goernment is unable to provide any funding whatsoever. Clearly then, it is important that sponsors continue to share our conviction that “repatriation” really is best for the children whose interests they — and both NOTDEC Uganda & UK — have very much at heart. So far, no sponsor has been unwilling to continue support to a child returned to their wider family. And that is very good news indeed.
Pray Without Ceasing
If we didn't believe it was best for the children, we wouldn't be doing it. If we had no misgivings, we wouldn't be human. If you would like to help, please pray with us.