Family style at Forever Angels

I spent the first few months of 2013 in Tanzania. For months beforehand, I’d been on a search for overseas volunteer opportunities that felt ethical. 

It was harder than I thought to do good things! I was mostly against being a teacher, since I had no teacher training or qualifications of any kind. I didn’t feel right about joining a construction project, since I can barely assemble an Ikea nightstand. And I’d learned enough about “orphanages” around the world to know that many are full of kids with parents…but poverty makes it possible for someone to come along and “borrow” those kids to parade in front of tourists for money (or gifts that can be turned into money).

When I learned about an organization called Forever Angels, I appreciated the approach they took. 

They cared for babies and young children who had typically lost one or both parents, and many of the kids were only at Forever Angels until someone in the child’s extended family could step in. Or sometimes, the children were adopted – usually locally. 

Forever Angels was also one of the few international organizations I’d encountered that required a criminal record check from volunteers, and one of a similarly small number that mandated a minimum length of stay to help reduce the negative effects of caregivers constantly cycling through a child’s life. (To further address that challenge, the organization was also very clear with volunteers that the local employees would be the primary caregivers; volunteers were just there to help.)

And so, off I went to volunteer at Forever Angels. 

It’s been a decade since I was there, and a lot has changed. It seems their approach has gotten even better. 

Before, the children got good care in large groups, but it was still more institutional than is ideal. Now, everything has been rearranged so there are a series of houses. Each is headed by a Mama with Aunties for support. Each house has a group of kids in it, and each household functions like a family. I recently received an email from Forever Angels, saying this:

Our Mamas at Forever Angels have ALWAYS showered love onto the children in our care. But in just three months of living in a family, we are all seeing such positive impacts on the children. Their language is developing more quickly, they are much calmer, they have better behaviour, are more willing to share and they have all bonded so well with their new Mamas – seeking her out when they are distressed or hurt or just need a cuddle.

Another difference since my time in Tanzania is the “Maisha Matters” program that Forever Angels runs. In this program, the organization tries to keep families intact. If a baby is born and can’t be fed by mom, the family can access Maisha Matters for baby formula, crisis response, and training. The program was in its early days when I was in Tanzania, and has grown substantially since then. The same email I mentioned above included this story about a grandmother who participates in Maisha Matters because of her infant grandson:

Christina was struggling to care for so many children – she was elderly and frail herself and had no income. Feeding the children was difficult enough, but affording formula for Gabriel was impossible. Thankfully she was [sent] to us from the Malnutrition Ward at the hospital. She brought Gabriel to our centre every week and once he was receiving the correct nutrition, Gabriel soon gained weight. Realising her grandson was going to survive, Christina found hope.

Every week Christina brings Gabriel to our centre where he is weighed and she is given life-saving milk for him. Christina joins our weekly preventative health workshops which she really enjoys, as she never attended school herself. She has met other Grandmothers in the same situation and has made friends and found a support network. With good nutrition, Gabriel has thrived in his Grandmother’s loving care and we recently set Christina up in a small business selling charcoal outside her home.

Life is still hard for Christina – she is an old lady caring for nine children – but because of Maisha Matters, their lives are no longer a daily struggle. Her family has food to eat every day; she can afford medicine if they are sick and she can even afford to send the older children to school. 

Shortly after returning from Tanzania, I joined a committee for a large children’s-focused charity in Calgary. I later changed jobs to work in support of older children and teens who were in tough circumstances. And most recently, I’ve become a foster parent. Each one of these experiences has overwhelmed me with how much is required to support families in Canada – while simultaneously demonstrating the many amazing people who step up when called for help. 

Speaking of being called on…hellooooo. 

I’m hoping you might consider showing any amount of generosity to the Forever Angels families. Forever Angels is not finished making improvements, and they are continuing to look for supporters. If you have the means, I hope you will consider taking action. You can donate here in Canadian dollarshere in GBPhere in USD or here in Australian dollars.

I know it’s not the first time I’ve used this blog to reflect on my time with Forever Angels, and I appreciate you reading. 

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7 thoughts on “Family style at Forever Angels

  1. Reading one of your blog posts awhile ago about Forever Angels actually prompted me to donate back then, and I’ve enjoyed getting their updates via email ever since. I read this email you are referring to last week, and after getting over my shock at Christina’s situation (9 kids for a grandma to take care of, on no income!!!) I considered donating to them again, especially knowing you can personally vouch for how ethical this overseas charity is (again, knowing how difficult it is to navigate overseas giving). This appeal clinched it for me – time to make another donation. Thank you for all you do, and for asking us to donate; ask and you shall receive!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Brad C

    “… I didn’t feel right about joining a construction project, since I can barely assemble an Ikea nightstand. …” Don’t be so hard on yourself, I recall a situation with an IKEA wardrobe … Oh wait, that was a dismantle project not a build project. I guess I’ll just be more patient and wait for a post on the IKEA build front 😉 🙂 haha

    Back to the topic at hand. Thanks for the great story and I have been thinking what I can do to celebrate you becoming a Foster Parent and decided a donation to Forever Angels is appropriate.

    Liked by 1 person

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