I take for granted what I learned just by growing up in a family. As a young mother, I also take for granted what my children pick up on just by being a part of the family I’m now building. I think of the needs that were met for me and the ones I meet for my kids. There are of course, the basic ones. Each day I wake up my kids, I feed them, clothe them, hug them, drive him to school or change her diaper. Then there are the more intricate and unseen needs of my son and daughter. I laugh at his superhero jokes and I coo back at her as she learns her voice. They sit around the dinner table during our conversations, picking up on the nuances of communication, how to comfort one another with thoughtful words, adjust one’s attitude, listen, respond and react appropriately. They’re learning skills for their lives every minute of the day. They are learning how to handle big emotions, let downs, good days, and bad days. A redirection here, a small lesson in the kitchen there, each little lesson adding up to a whole person. Lessons about money, safety, human touch, food, choices, hygiene, tone of voice, self control, hard work, every necessary skill we need to be successful humans is taught within the construct of a family.
Being raised by a family and being a “family member” just seems matter-of-fact. It isn’t something I had to search for, worry about, or dream about, only to wake up without one. I never knew life outside of my role as a daughter. I never longed to be someone’s daughter. I have no reference point to measure what it feels like or what life could be like without the attention, love, support and lessons of a family, even an imperfect one. Lately, as I see the faces of the children we support at Family Bethlehem, I have wondered, what would have become of me without the care of a family? I see myself in their faces. Would I have acquired the most basic skills necessary to meet and get along with people, hold a meaningful conversation, get a job, cook food, clean my house……would I have a house now? I try to imagine who I would be today as a 31 year old. I am wife, mother, and teacher. But what would I be if I had grown up as an orphan, let alone grown up as an orphan under a government that didn’t find it within its ability to provide me with food and clean water, let alone an education or access to a foster family. What if I had grown up as an orphan in a country with no social safety nets and was left to care for myself?
The phrase, “But for the grace of God, there go I,” repeats in my mind often. I hear it most when I think of the children and mothers we support in DRC. I never did anything to deserve a family growing up. I was born into one that remained my family forever. I owe most of who I am and what I have to their raising. If it had been different for me, If I had been without a family, would someone have fought for me to have my basic needs met or to find a family to raise me? Maybe an organization would have made it their goal to meet my needs, provide me access to education, food, hope--a future. “But for the grace of God, there go I,” reminds me I am blessed, not because of anything I have done. It compels me to impact as many lives as I can with my time, money and talents.
We know from the extensive research and writing out there and our own experience with orphans in DRC, that orphanages are not a solution for a child. They do not have the capacity to teach, grow, nurture, prepare and launch a child into a successful life. Reeds of Hope is determined to teach mothers in Kinshasa the trades and skills they need to provide for their children so they do not have to face the decision of leaving their child at an orphanage. Similarly, we are determined to care for the children who have been orphaned at Family Bethlehem in Eastern DRC. We will continue to provide for their needs as family members do, which includes education and mentorship. Secondly, we will continue to do the hard work of equipping their extended family members to raise them if they are able, or find and train up loving, local Congolese adoptive families to raise them as a family member, the way God intends.
We need people like you to help us continue this work. Visit our Take Action tab to learn how your help can change lives.
Sarah Calvo is our Sponsorship and Education coordinator in the East. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or to learn more.