We believe that every child has a right to survival and development. Our principal aim is to provide care to Malawi’s vulnerable children so that they can survive their first years. As soon as children have recovered their health we support their return home so that they can grow up to thrive within their home communities.
Babies are only referred to Open Arms Infant Homes by the Social Welfare team when their lives are at risk and there is no community support available. They are often in need of urgent medical help. Once at Open Arms they receive medical care, shelter and the nourishment they need to survive and return to their extended families.
Extended family members are encouraged to visit babies at Open Arms Infant Homes to build family bonds. When a child is growing and developing well they are ready to move back home and several home visits will be made in preparation.
The care team will invite the guardian to come to stay at Open Arms Infant Homes for a few days. This is a chance to teach guardians the daily routine and help the child adjust to their new way of life.
In the grounds of Open Arms we have a traditional house, which is similar to what children will go home to. Here the child and guardian will stay for a few days until the child is comfortable and the guardian is happy with their care.
When they do go home, they are given the essentials for a good start. These include a blanket, mosquito net, their favourite toy, clothes and 25kg of Likuni Phala (a nutrient rich maize and soya porridge).
The community outreach team will visit families and monitor the children who have returned to their home communities. Providing parenting advice, medicines and food until children are settled and the families can support them independently. Long term independence and self sufficiency depends on this transition support and the team will work closely with the individual needs of each child and family. The families who are most at need, can receive extra sponsorship and support from Open Arms and this will be recommended by our Matron.
Communities are often very poor and rely on farming for food and income. To help ease the burden on the families who are looking after an extra child, we deliver annual packs of maize seed and fertiliser to the families and community based organisations that look after children who have been in our care.
Due to the lack of nutrition, almost 50% of children under five in Malawi have stunted growth. Without help such as these packs the statistics would be worse.
Sometimes, in rural villages there are no education facilities and so we have built Nursery Schools in partnership with the communities that children have returned home to. This is a place where children can receive free basic nursery education. And just as importantly they get a hot nutritious meal every day. This can be the only meal that a child gets in a day and so it is essential for development and growth.
The Open Arms team work closely with communities and have built up a trusted relationship with village leaders over many year. This means that we work in partnership with communities to build the Nursery schools and then hand them over to be run by the local village. A teacher, an assistant and food will be paid for by Open Arms, but the village own and run the schools. We currently support nine Nursery Schools, reaching an estimated 600 children every day.
They have become an invaluable resource to local communities who are also encouraged to use them for activities that benefit the whole village.
Our principal aim is to return a fit and healthy children back to his or her home community as quickly as possible. Sadly this was not always achievable in the past. In some situations, such as abandonment, health conditions or further deaths of relatives, going home was not always successful.
Five family homes were created in 2005 for older children who needed longer term support. They have been home to 25 children since then allowing them to grow and develop in a supportive home environment within Blantyre. They are owned and managed by Open Arms Infant Homes but run as small families as much as possible with the aim of supporting children and young adults into a fulfilling and independent future.
Children go to local schools, make local friends and learn the skills they need to live independently one day. They have had access to schooling, vocational training, emotional support, counselling and new business set up giving them the tools, skills and confidence they need to achieve the future they design. Where family or community links exist we encourage them to develop so that the children can visit regularly and move back to their families as soon as they are ready.
We are delighted that advancements over the years mean that all children that are supported by Open Arms now return to permanent family guardians by the age of two years old. This means that residential care has reduced significantly as we focus our resources on more sustainable community based support. This is something we are extremely proud of and will continue to drive forward so every child can have a future at home with their family.
“The impact of Open Arms’ professional and efficient model is highly effective. The sustainability of returning infants to their communities, rather than keeping them institutionalised for their whole lives, creates empowerment and benefit reaching further than the walls of the homes.” - Becky Bottle (volunteer in Malawi)
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