A Child Visits Family in Sierra Leone

10/28/10

Holidays are taken seriously at Children of the Nations (COTN) in Sierra Leone. For a week or so during the summer—after summer school and summer camp have finished—many of the children in COTN’s Children’s Villages travel to visit their extended family. COTN–Sierra Leone staff believe that time with biological family is essential as the children grow and develop into who they are. So, though the children don’t have biological parents still living, they are able to continue to have strong relationships with cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents.

“They’ve lived in COTN’s Children’s Villages their whole lives. They’re going to graduate from secondary school and university and they’re going to find somewhere to live. They need a starting point,” says Mark Drennan, COTN-International Sierra Leone Liaison. “Family is so important in African culture to know where you’re from and who you are. They are from and they are COTN kids, but that’s not the end of their story. That’s not the end of who they are. They’re also from a village in western Sierra Leone or somewhere else. They have a tribal culture of their own. We need to make sure that we allow them to maintain their connections.”
Mark says many of our children have family members who love them dearly, but lack food or resources to provide for them. “The families say, don’t send them [to visit], because we can’t feed them. So we send them with things to eat so that their families can have them for a few days or week,” he says.

Susan Ibrahim, who lives in COTN’s Banta Children’s Village, visits a woman she calls her “Aunty” because she views her as family. The woman, who lives in Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, found Susan and her sister living on the streets with their mother when they were young. She was instrumental in getting the two girls to COTN where they could be properly cared for. Susan always looks forward to visiting her. “I had a very good time,” Susan says of this past summer holiday. “My Aunty took good care of me and monitored my movements. She secured me and taught me more about my spiritual life.”

The love from her Aunty has had a huge impact on Susan. “It’s a connection the kids can have to their family—people who knew their parents who have died and that they have never known,” says Mark. “One girl in COTN’s Children’s Village doesn’t remember her father, but because she’s been able to go and see extended family members, she can hear little things about who he was. She gets told by people that she looks like her father and that means the world to kids as they grow up and try to understand who they are. And from that is created their identity. It’s really important—how could it not be?”

From Susan’s Aunty and her time growing up at COTN, Susan’s identity is beginning to take shape. At home at COTN in Banta Mokelleh, she helps the pastor of a church in one of the nearby villages each Sunday. So, while she was in Freetown, it was natural for her to tell others about God. “I was able to evangelize to some youth like me that don’t have the opportunity to know about Jesus Christ,” Susan says.

Not only that, she was reminded of how blessed she is to be part of COTN’s family. “I was able to see the difference between the way of life living at COTN and living in the outside world,” she says. “Most children out there are suffering and they don’t have somebody to take care of them and they don’t have security. I was very happy and proud to say I was from COTN, an orphanage home.”

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