After much deliberation, I last year informed the Open Arms Infant’s Home Board (OAIH) of my intention to retire with effect from July 2023. It has been an absolute pleasure to lead the team at Open Arms Infant Homes and shape the future direction of the infant care we provide.
The past seven years have seen a number of important changes as we increased the focus on making sure that all babies and children can return home for a future with their families regardless of their circumstances.
Taking over from the previous Director in 2016, the most immediate challenge was planning the futures of the 30 older children, many of whom were already teenagers, living in the five Foster Houses. (Later renamed Family Houses.) We also had to ensure that the number of older children in residential care did not increase, by radically improving reintegration procedures at the earliest opportunity.
Making contact with guardians as soon as babies arrived at our Infant Homes (instead of waiting until babies were two) and working together with them, has led to a 100% success rate for baby re-integrations. The families caring for these babies are then embraced by our community outreach programme, ensuring they have continued support in every way.
With regard to the older children already in Family Houses, those over 16 and not academically inclined were transferred to different vocational training courses of their own choosing; each child needed a skill to earn an income. They all had extended families but many had lost contact over the years at Open Arms. Families have been investigated, links made and relationships rekindled. 18 of the 30 have been re-integrated and plans are progressing for the remaining 12.
I am proud to have established a ‘Leadership Group’ in 2017, which meets monthly and has encouraged our senior Malawian staff to be part of all Open Arms decision-making, including the two main challenges above. I sincerely hope this will empower them to play leading roles in the future of Open Arms.
Open Arms is facing many challenges in the future. Malawi has suffered several recent cyclones and faces a current cost of living and FOREX crises, with severe fuel shortages. Fundraising was badly hit by COVID-19 and has not yet recovered. Bringing revenues back to somewhere near pre-COVID levels is a top priority.
The extreme poverty in some areas has meant that Open Arms continues to offer essential residential care. A move, at least partially, into baby ‘care in the community’ is a natural next step now our community outreach programme has been strengthened. This will see our operation to develop and gradually adapt to the future needs of Malawi.
I shall be sad to leave Open Arms Infant Home as my time here, while occasionally challenging, has been both rewarding and fulfilling. Maria and I want to enjoy some leisure time before we get too old and I look forward to being a house husband in the near future!
I wish the Open Arms family of trustees, staff, donors, supporters and above all, the children, every success and happiness in the future.
Blantyre, Tues 9th May 2023
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