I work with local Malagasy children in a variety of ways.
We work with children in two orphanages in Mahajanga, a government-run orphanage in Mangarivotra (which has no name), and a privately-funded orphanage, the Centre Fanovozantsoa, in Tsaralaza. We interact with the children in lots of ways, providing monthly birthday parties for all the birthday babies, and we take each child shopping for their birthday, allowing them to pick out pretty much anything they want. It’s fun to sit back and watch what each child chooses, some want something as simply as a cheap, Chinese plastic toy, while others want a bluetooth speaker, or a specific article of clothing. Each child also gets a new pair of flip-flop sandals and several pairs of new underwear.
And twice annually, I personally sew new linens for each child, each set unique, no two alike – just like the kids. We do arts and crafts, we do beach excursions to nearby Petite Place, and we do group clothes shopping trips several times per year. We also provide dental care, and for many of these children, their visit to the dentist in 2021 was their first visit to a dentist, ever, and MANY of them lost a few teeth as a result.
The term “orphan” is used loosely here, in over 95% of the cases, these children have parents and/or family, but either they were taken away by the State, or were given up by their parents who couldn’t care for them. Very few of these children are actually orphans. Adoption is not an option here. Once these children come to an orphanage, they will remain there until they age-out, at the age of 18.
- SPECIAL NEEDS
There is one school in Amborovy (a northern suburb of Mahajanga) that caters to children with special needs. The Finoana School provides these children with the special attention and training they need. We sponsor several children to attend this school, paying their tuition, transportation, meals, but more importantly, we bring each child to an esteemed neurologist, and pay for any medications that may be prescribed. In some cases, medication can actually increase their cognitive abilities, though this varies with each case.
- HALFWAY HOUSE
In 2021 we started building a small cottage we refer to as a “Halfway House,” which was intended to be used as transitional housing for the orphanage kids who age-out of the system. At the time, we had two at-risk children at the Mangarivotra orphanage who could have taken advantage of this, but since then, our focus for the Halfway House has changed. One of our special needs kids who lives at the Mangarivotra orphanage, named Rija, is one of those kids who is truly an orphan. He has no family, no one, and his cognitive abilities made us think that he’s a teenager. However, his birth certificate was finally located by the government and we discovered he’s actually 20 years old.
This blew us all away. He’s been attending the Finoana School since 2021, and for the first time in his life, he can sign his name. For the first time in his life, he can count to five. We’ve decided to shift the focus of the Halfway House to accommodate Rija, as well as our one at-risk teenager at the orphanage, so that each can live in the HH, one in each of the two cottages, both supervised and cared for by an on-site caretaker who will teach them each how to cook, how to manage their money, basically, how to live as independently as possible.
Rija’s dental needs are extreme. He was living with a family member who, deciding he’d be better off dead, planned to poison Rija to be through with him. When Rija overheard their plans, he went to his local priest who called the police and had the relatives arrested. This child was born damaged, both parents dead, unwanted and unloved by the only family he had left, and ended up in the orphanage in Mahajanga. The first time I took him to a dentist in 2021, at least nine of his teeth were extracted, the dentist was able to cap his front teeth to finally give Rija a nice smile, but more teeth still need to be removed, something which we will deal with in July 2022.