A message from Charlie at Open Arms Infant Homes …
I cannot believe that it is almost a year since I last wrote; where has all that time gone? Since I owe you all a whole year of gratitude, let me begin by thanking you. Your support has contributed greatly to the work that we have been able to do these last 12 months.
So what have we been able to achieve? Well, in the words of one former UK prime minister, it has been ‘business as usual,’ or, in the context of Open Arms, should that be, ‘living and growing as usual?’
Between our two infant homes and five foster houses, we are currently providing homes for 103 children. In line with Malawi Government policy, we sincerely hope that those aged between 0-2yrs can be returned and successfully reintegrated into their own extended families and communities. To further this aim we have started to make outreach visits to find and assess the capability of guardian designates. Hitherto, outreach has been a post-reintegration, check-up operation but not an assessment of the extended family’s capability or suitability for parenthood.
I have also ventured beyond Blantyre and Mangochi, making contact with The Ministry of Gender. Like many countries, Malawi has, understandably, taken a strong position against ‘childcare institutions.’ I am seeking, and have thus far received, verbal assurances from the Ministry that Open Arms, especially our 0-2 provision, is supported as an essential support service to Malawi’s orphans and vulnerable children.
Our biggest staff change since last year has been the retirement of Dilys Taylor, whose involvement as a Trustee and Treasurer dates back to the last Century! Trustees celebrated Dilys’s amazing contribution to Open Arms at a retirement supper, hosted (and paid for!) by Dani (Trustee) and David Atkinson.
Joining as our new book keeper, Maxine Lockington is introducing new systems and processes, including a ‘cloud-based’ payroll system. These developments have not been without their challenges but from my current vantage point I am happy to report that with Maxine’s help, we are winning.
We also said goodbye to Helen Hinde, who had looked after administration in Blantyre for a year and we welcomed Martin Mussa. Martin has been teaching IT for foster house children but has joined us as an Administrative and IT Assistant at the Infant Home in Kabula, Blantyre. He is covering a whole range of tasks at present as we look to develop his role later this year.
Caring for children with a team of dedicated caregivers is a labour intensive business; release for training is not always easy. However, we were visited recently by Elizabeth Black, who is on a sabbatical from her post at the prestigious George Watson College in Edinburgh. She had been visiting places of ‘early years interest’ in South Africa and Malawi. Consistent with our plan to improve training and foreground emotional needs and cognitive development, we were delighted to receive an invitation to her talk at a local international school. Four of our Blantyre staff attended and have been inspired by what Elizabeth had to say.
At the same time, my wife and a colleague from Phoenix International Primary School have started to bring a group of children to play with our Harrogate House toddlers every Tuesday afternoon. These children have already been benefitting from trips to St Andrew’s International Primary School Nursery every Thursday and so are building on their sand, water-play, singing and walking; great, learning through play has started!