Heartwood Orphan Home in Liberia, 2008-2017
The Heartwood Orphan Home in Zuannah Town, Liberia was opened in 2008, and has been home to Liberian children and youth were identified as an abandoned or orphaned child as a result of Ebola or the Liberian civil war. In February 2017 we transitioned into a new approach we call SPOCK – Support Program for Orphans in Care of Kin. This revolutionary program allows orphaned children to remain with extended families who receive a small per diem and school fees for the children they voluntarily care for. In March 2017 all of the children who were in our care at the Heartwood Orphan Home were reunified with extended family or placed into foster families who were already known to the children. Donations from monthly orphan sponsors are pooled and divided among the children we sponsor. We also continue to operate the Heartwood Halfway House, a group home for young adults who have aged out of the orphanage, who receive limited support, scholarship, business development skills training, and micro-loan opportunities. We continue to operate under the authority of the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection of Liberia as a duly accredited Child Welfare Institution and national NGO.
Detailed History of the Refugee Orphan Home
WHY ORPHANS AT BUDUBURAM?: The first experience Andy and Kayla Jones, the founders of Africa Heartwood Project, had in Africa, was with Liberian orphans living at the Buduburam Refugee Camp outside of Accra, Ghana in 1999. An effort was made to identify orphan and unaccompanied children, get them enrolled in school for one year, and provide food, clothes, and hygiene kits. Thanks to the help of Liberians living at the Camp, kind-hearted family and friends who gave money, and LDS Charities in Ghana, initial efforts were successful. Unfortunately, time and money constraints didn’t allow the Jones’ to stay involved at the camp, until AHP was registered and a small amount of donated funds were available (thanks to Up With Kids and DjembeDirect.com customers).
PHASE 1: NEEDS ASSESSMENT 2008:
The Refugee Orphan Home at the Buduburam Refegee Camp in Ghana was established in October 2008 to meet the basic needs of about 50 young Liberian refugees. This was accomplished as Andy spent extensive time working with a small but dedicated group of Liberian refugees, self-organized as Children Humanitarian Assistance Program (CHAP), and a U.S. NGO, GRAACE. A needs assessment of orphan children and youth was completed, and a plan to provide for their immediate needs of shelter, water, food, and education was established. It was discovered that most of the young orphan children whom the Jones’ had known on their first visit (1999) had passed away due to malnutrition and the lack of medical care. However, a few were still at the camp now in their teens, alive but still in great need. These orphans had been joined by many more children and youth orphans who had arrived to the camp after 1999. Despite worthy and helpful efforts of the UNHCR and other intervening agencies targeting mainly the repatriation, relocation, and integration of adult refugees, there continues to be a crisis for orphaned boys and girls. Many of these resilient children and youth are sleeping under tables and in corners. Some have been shown kindness by strangers or friends of deceased family, who may offer shelter or some food. But all have one primary objective: find enough food to eat today. During the visit several of the orphans described how they “hustle” to get any money they can, by carrying items for people from the market, or begging, or working for others by vending items at the market. They are not enrolled in school; they have no immediate family at the camp who is able to care for them; many don’t know if their families are still alive in Liberia as a result of the war. All are hungry, and all struggle to have any hope.
See photos and footage from the assessment visit to Buduburam Refugee Camp
PHASE 2: ESTABLISHING THE ORPHAN HOME 2008 to 2010:
One older boy voiced his skepticism at yet another group of white people, come to the Camp to take their names on a list and snap photos, who would always disappear without providing any help. Andy explained, I assured Eugene, and the other orphan boys and girls, that our intention was to help any way we could, and that we would start immediately. That day arrangements were made to lease a building large enough to house 40 orphans, and mattresses, cooking supplies, and a huge water tank were purchased for dedicated use at the Home. Eugene and others felt that at last God was hearing their prayers, and that there was hope for their future. The phased assistance program has begun, by establishing a Home and providing adequate shelter and bedding, clean water for drinking, bathing, and cooking, basic cooking supplies, and lock boxes for the children to store their personal belongings. Fifty boys and girls have been identified as orphans, and registered with CHAP, for residence at the Home. The orphans have elected their own Youth Leadership Council who are responsible for the day-to-day organization of the Home, have established their own rules of conduct, and are involved in the planning and execution of assistance provided to them.
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PHASE 3: SUSTAINING THE ORPHANAGE – 2010 to 2011:
For many months financial support of the Refugee Orphan Home was unpredictable, but thanks to the generosity of WorldNativity.com, DjembeDirect.com, Jan Jones, and other sustaining contributors, services to the children were able to continue and improve. Introduced in 2009, our Orphan Sponsorship Program extended the opportunity for individuals and families to be linked to specific orphans for ongoing social and financial support. The success of this program gave the Home financial stability.
THE VISION: The vision for the Home has expanded as the needs of the children have evolved, and as political and social environments at the camp have worsened. Initially the mission was to prevent hunger and malnutrition, disease, exposure, illiteracy, and social neglect of our orphans. Mission accomplished. Then we began to move toward a larger vision of the full development of the child and self-sustainability of the Home, adding more educational opportunities with the Culture Troup (est. June 2009) and Vocational Training Center (est. March 2010), including sustainable income-generating projects for the youth, and comprehensive medical evaluations and treatment (est. Feb 2010). Despite the difficult operating conditions at the camp, we have found success in all of these efforts. But now our sights are set even higher: Liberia!
Hear the voices and see the faces that have been helped by the Heartwood Orphan Home
PHASE 4: RELOCATION TO LIBERIA – 2012
In March 2010 Andy Jones, AHP’s founder and director, visited Liberia to determine the feasibility and appropriateness of permanently relocating the Home and the children from Buduburam to Liberia. They officially established the NGO in Liberia, traveled the country, met with key stakeholders in all ministries and levels of Liberian government, networked with like-minded NGOs with extensive experience with orphanages and repatriation of minors, and observed the general security, culture, and opportunities found in post-war Liberia. The clear conclusion, relative to remaining at Buduburam: Liberia offers the best likelihood for a successful, happy, productive future for our orphan children. With the well being of the children as our first priority (those at Buduburam and more in Liberia), and with the development of Liberia in scope, we set in motion a plan to make it happen. In May 2011 October 2011 additional trips were taken to Liberia to make arrangements for the move. In May 2012 a 5 year lease was signed to secure the temporary location for the Home in Zuanna Town, Brewersville, Liberia. From May 2012 to January 2013 most children and staff were voluntarily repatriated by the UNHCR to Liberia, thereby bringing our services at Buduburam to a close. In January 2013 the Home was officially re-opened in Liberia.
Video tour of the compound to be renovated as part of the Move to Liberia, 2012.
PHASE 5: RAISING THE FAMILY – 2013 to 2017:
Despite the extreme difficulties experienced by the entire Heartwood Orphan Home family during the Move to Liberia, we are finally settled and going about the business of raising the Heartwood family of orphan children and youth. We are so grateful to be established in our private Orphan Home complex in the small, peaceful village of Zuannah Town, Liberia. Our children are all enrolled in the local schools, are mentored by exceptional staff and volunteers, are learning to become independent, and best of all… are healthy and happy!
A day in the life of a child at the Home would include:
- taking care of one’s own body through proper hygiene, including a morning bath
- learning responsibility through performance of daily household chores, rotating their contribution through cooking, cleaning, feeding the animals, laundry, brushing the compound, and more.
- eating breakfast together before school
- walking to the local schools together, being an attentive student, and walking home together
- completion of homework with help as needed from a local, private tutor
- relaxing in the compound or playing yard games with friends in the village
- eating family dinner together
- evening devotional centered on personal development, spiritual devotion, and family unity
- management and use of allowance money for personal spending
- occasional trip to Monrovia for shopping or outings
- weekly trip to church service with local congregations
Princess D., one of the children at the Heartwood Orphan Home, teaches how to make her favorite traditional Liberian dish: Cassava Leaf Stew!