Support Program for Orphans in Care of Kin (SPOCK), Liberia
In February 2017 Africa Heartwood Project established a program in Liberia to provide support to poor families who are voluntarily raising the children of relatives who have passed. We call it the Support Program for Orphans in Care of Kin, or S.P.O.C.K.. Our motivation came from the difficult choice we made to close our full-time child welfare institution in Liberia, the Heartwood Orphan Home. While this change was necessary it was heart-breaking, so thankfully all sixteen children who were in our custody were transitioned into family or foster care, or to the Heartwood Halfway House, executed with the blessing of the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection (MGCSP). Without the need to increase spending, we have able to expand our positive influence by enrolling additional children, mostly ebola orphans. Our monthly SPOCK donors are now supporting 140 orphan children in 50 households!
The SPOCK system is simple, and addresses the greatest need of families who struggle financially under the burden of caring for additional children: Extra cash to use for the greatest household need. Through a social worker, each month we distribute money to the female head of household as financial relief for the family ($10-$25 depending on age and financial need), scholarship funds to pay for government education ($25-$100/year), and an annual holiday gift ($20). So long as the children are under the age of 18, being cared for full time in the home of the family, and are attending school, they will continue to benefit from SPOCK, in so far as sponsors continue to donate.
When a child becomes orphaned in Liberia it is typical for an extended family member or a close family friend to take the child into their home, to raise them as their own. This social norm is based in good will, as there is no public or private program in place for supporting families providing kinship care, and there is no adoption or foster procedure managed by the government. Only in extreme cases does the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection get involved; it is rare for a child be assigned to an orphanage for full time care, or to qualify for international adoption. Through a series of meetings with leadership at the MGCSP, it became clear that there was a need for somebody to start a program that caters to needy families caring for orphans. A little cash each month – not enough to motivate ill-intention, and enough to provide real relief – along with assurance of funds for education, and a holiday gift, would be just the thing to meet this need. We are happy that Africa Heartwood Project has been able to expand our services to bring hope and relief to many more needy Liberian children in poor families.
Donations are pooled to support all orphan families enrolled for SPOCK support. Each month the distribution amount changes based on the ages and needs of the children and youth, and timing of school registration. The average cost of support per child, including the operation of the Heartwood Halfway House (age 18+ orphans) is about $35/month. Due to the nature of this service, we are unable to offer child-specific sponsorship at this time.
Our Ebola Orphan Families
We are pleased that our SPOCK initiative is able to provide relief to many families caring for children whose parents died during the “Ebola War” in Liberia. From April 2014 to September 2015 thousands of families were affected, with especially devastating impacts within the Banjor area of Brewerville, a city outside of Monrovia. With the help of Pastor John Fefegula, social worker Teta Domah, and community members, in early 2017 we were able to identify and enroll 59+ children in over 24 households for assistance. In March 2018 we were able to expand to 50 households caring for 140 orphans. Ruby and Andy Jones shot the 2017 video clips as we spoke to each family to learn of their history and current circumstances, to determine if Africa Heartwood Project would be able to lend a hand.
Please take notice that most of the caregivers are women, weary yet strong, who have willingly brought their nieces and nephews and grandchildren into their homes, despite their already limited resources. We hold these hard working, resourceful, and very able Liberian women in the highest regard, and are grateful to our donors who make it possible to ease the burden of financial strain these mothers face every day.
There are more families and children in need; if you feel you can afford to share what you have, Africa Heartwood Project can be the means to help you make a real difference for good.