|Governments around the world are taking different approaches to how to manage child protection, family support, and foster care systems in response to COVID-19. IFCO Board member Lanto Robivelo, Operational Director of Famadagascar outlines the work that he and Famadagascar have been completing in Madagascar.|
On Saturday March 21st, the president of Madagascar announced that the country would commence partial lock down, after just three confirmed cases of coronavirus. Apparently, introduced to the island by a tourist carrying the virus who had flown here just to buy one of our herbal remedies. All passenger flights connecting our large island were cancelled, schools were closed, buses stopped and only food shops could stay open until mid-day. Many were relieved that the president had taken drastic, quick steps to try to contain the spread of the virus, particularly because we do not have the strong health care services that many countries have. However, this lock down has sadly been a great risk for much of the population. For most people who earn barely enough money day by day with market stalls or stress sellers, it has literally meant not being able to eat. In an effort to keep people at home and stop the spread of the virus, rubbish trucks were sent to round up all the homeless people and placed all 1,000 of them in two centres, under lock and key. Our NGO Famadagascar.org was asked to help.Up until the Covid 19 crisis, our NGO Famadagascar (www.famadagascar.org) was working with the government to establish a national foster care system here. We had been able to help the government write national guidelines, and we were planning to assist them in writing a national handbook with the help of our partners, the Martin James Foundation https://martinjames.foundation/.
We were planning to provide the first pilot foster care project in the capital city, a desperately needed service in light of the fact that every orphanage here is now full. Once the coronavirus came to our shores, we had to pause all these plans and rethink about the immediate needs of children and families here, and how we could assist. Family preservation has always been at the heart of our work with foster care. Without family preservation, foster care is like putting a plaster on a constantly bleeding wound. 90% of the families we have helped over the last three years admitted that they had considered abandoning their children to orphanages before they were referred to us. It quickly became clear that many more children were at risk of being abandoned into the already over-crowded orphanages, due to the consequences of poverty, compounded further by the effects of the lockdown. We decided to press pause on our foster care plans, and turn our attention to concentrating on our family preservation work.
With our partners, the Martin James Foundation, we agreed to help the 25 pregnant homeless women and their families who were locked up in two compounds. In one of the compounds, 300 men, women and children slept in one large room. We began to take the pregnant ladies and their families and drive them to their new homes that we had found for them in the community, close to a maternity clinic. We also employed community workers ready to help them settle in.
One lady said she had lived on the street for 10 years, falling on hard times after her husband died. She had just not been able to raise enough money to rent a small house, so just continued to sleep in doorways or under boxes. Another lady we discovered was heavily pregnant with transverse twins (at great risk if she had ended up giving birth inside the compound). Sadly, one lady was so badly beaten up by someone in the compound that she devised a plan to escape and ran away the next day. So far, within two weeks, we have settled 9 pregnant ladies with their families, with more homes being prepared.
Now the real hard graft of social work begins, as we endeavour to help these families to re-integrate into society, all of which have spent years living on the street, and also endeavour to enable society here to accept them. Our team consists: community workers, social workers, and a logistics manager.
If I can use an English idiom “every cloud has a silver lining”, perhaps the silver lining of the Covid-19 crisis in Madagascar, is that we at Famadagascar have been introduced to these previously homeless families and their children. They now have been given a chance to live with a roof over their heads and food on the table, educational opportunities for children and adults, and help with employment with a view to standing on their own two feet. In the long run, this will mean less risk of these children ending up in orphanages, and the cycle of poverty for these particular families to be broken.