Filling the parental gap

Filling the parental gap

MASERU-AFTER breaking up with her Malaysian husband, Mariam Sefotho was forced to leave her child in the Asian country.
She was devastated. Back home, she has turned it into positive energy and is now proudly looking after several children who would otherwise be going without care.

Life is often lonely and rough for orphans and children dumped by their parents. But some have been lucky to have people such as Sefotho, who will fill in the parental gap with all the love of a mother.

The country’s poor performing economy has, in part, contributed to the high numbers of children who lack parental care, according to Habitat Lesotho, an organisation with a mission to build decent houses for shelter-less poor people.

The organisation says Lesotho is one of the least developed countries in the world with 57.1 percent of its population living below the poverty datum line.

It says the rate of HIV and AIDS in adults is estimated at 25.6 percent, which triggers rapidly increasing numbers of orphans and other vulnerable children.
The organisation says more than 27 percent of children under 18 are orphans.

The current infant mortality rate for Lesotho in 2020 is 57.539 deaths per 1000 live births, a 3.94 percent decline from 2019.
thepost spoke to some of these caregivers to get a glimpse of what it takes to commit to such a vocation.

Sefotho, the Beautiful Gate caregiver, described nurturing children as one of the best decisions she made since 2007.
“For me it’s not just a job or about money but the love I have for children,” Sefotho said. “It’s so exciting,” she added.
It proved a difficult job during the early days, as she also had to deal with her own loss of the opportunity to raise her own child.
It later turned to be the therapy she needed to heal.

“It is unfortunate that I didn’t raise my child, but these children helped me heal quickly,” she said. “I give them my heart and do my job to the fullest.”
The job requires a sensitive, patient, considerate, humane, approachable and loving person, Sefotho said.

However, due to the tight bonds she creates with the children, sometimes it has been hard for her when some of the children are reunited with their families or taken in by foster families, she said.
“It is sad to see them leave and yet fulfilling as they go to their new parents,” she said.

She said children need equal treatment and support so that some do not to feel less loved.
“They even call me ’Mè, meaning mommy, and it makes me happy,” she said.

“I feel loved and it encourages me to continue bringing hope to many young lives,” Sefotho said, adding that some parents return to pay gratitude for her work.
She said the children at the orphanage “see when I am sad and they try to cheer me up. There has never been a time I spent the whole day sad with them around and our communication makes it easier.”

“They trust me and even when they do wrong, they tell me the truth.”
Another caretaker, Aupa Ratšolo of ’Malibuseng Orphanage, said taking care of 40 children whose ages range from six months to 18 years old is “tough”.

“These children come from different backgrounds and each has to be treated in a special way to avoid hurting them more,” Ratšolo said.
He said meeting the needs of the children on a daily basis is one of the biggest challenges faced by caregivers.
“This doesn’t only need caregivers but also qualified counselors,” he said.

He said the orphanage is made of volunteer caregivers.
Children are expected to leave the orphanage once they reach 18 years old, although those that are still to enroll for tertiary education or find a job are allowed to stay longer.
“We don’t release them until they are on their feet. We avoid endangering their lives either by being street kids or drug abusers”.
“We need funding to ensure that they are well taken care of and we meet their basic needs,” he said.

Like Sefotho, seeing the children go is a bitter-sweet experience.
“It is sad and exciting at the same having to part ways with children I nurtured for a long time and at times I can’t guarantee that their lives will improve once they leave,” he said.

“It’s so fulfilling to see others leave after completion of their studies and they earn something for a living. It’s an achievement,” said the father of two, who says he treats the children at the centre the same way he treats his own biological children.
“I give them the same love and there is no favouritism, knowing how dangerous it can be.”

“All I want for them is to grow up happy.”
Phelisanong Children’s Home’s caregiver, ’Mamajoane Raleotoana, said having to care for children with special needs is “difficult”.
The children’s home particularly takes care of disabled children, especially those with mental health issues.
“They fail to understand and accept the situation they are in,” Raleotana said.

“I am here to help by playing a parenting role, especially to those abandoned by their parents,” she said.
“Communication is difficult and I have to think or assume what they say is their need.”
She said she has given her heart to the profession for the past 15 years.
“I don’t know how I did it but I am still coping,” she said.

Moetsuoa Qhobela of the Apostolic Faith Mission (AFM) Social Development Division said “walking the journey with children and ensuring they were reconciled is very tough”.
“But since we work with them at different levels, I, as a pastor, offer them spiritual support,” Qhobela said.

He said the presence of social workers helps them “a lot” to achieve psycho-social support and monitor the children’s welfare.
“It makes our job easier as we don’t have to do a job we are not good at but rather leave professionals to it,” said Qhobela, also paying tribute to local and international funders who help the institution meet the children’s needs.

Each household in the centre’s compound hosts a maximum of eight children.
“We give them a sense that it is their home and they have a parent taking care of them like in any other household,” he said.
“Parting ways with them is hard.”
He said he learnt that some parents lose interest in raising their children but get interested when they see them getting older.

“The motive is for children to know their biological parents and we unite them should they show interest.”
“It’s not an immediate thing, it’s a process and we work with the child until they understand the changes to be made.”

Qhobela said the processes of transforming the children from the state of being raised at the orphanage to reuniting with their biological parents or relatives “helps us accept the situation and when the reunification finally occurs, where possible we hold a farewell party for the child”.

Mapule Motsopa

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