Reflections on Nelson Mandela

 

The staff and community of Spence-Chapin stand in solidarity with our partners in South Africa, the Johannesburg Child Welfare Society, who are mourning the loss of Nelson Mandela. The Executive Director of Jo’burg Child Welfare, Lyn, shares her two experiences meeting Mr. Mandela.

The first occasion was his birthday after becoming President. Jo’burg Child Welfare was contacted and asked to organize a birthday party for street children from all over South Africa which was held in Johannesburg at Gold Reef City. Children were bused, came by train or flew to Jo-burg for the day.  I happened to be on holiday in KZN and my husband insisted that I should not miss being at the party, so he paid for me to fly back to Jo’burg for the day. I traveled to Durban very early in the morning and, coincidentally, I happened to be on a plane full of street children. Their excitement was so palpable, it could have lifted the plane off the runway.  At the luncheon, Madiba came around to talk to each guest, holding hands with each person throughout and thanking everyone for the contribution made to children’s services.

My next meeting was most unexpected. I had been given a scholarship to attend a course at Babson College in Boston and wanted to give the sponsors a memorable gift.  I bought the book ‘Long Walk to Freedom’ and asked a board member who was married to a cabinet minister whether she could have the book autographed by Madiba.  He had been out of the country and the board member managed to get around his gatekeeper.  Madiba indicated that the only time available was at 07:00 am on the day I was flying to the US.  I received a telephone call at 07:15 am to say that I should quickly get to his home, as he wished to meet me over coffee.  Needless to say, I was totally overawed.

Lyn explains that Nelson Mandela Lyn and Spence-Chapin staffhad a close connection with Jo’burg Child Welfare because his previous wife, Winnie, was a social worker at JCW in the 1960’s. Lyn writes, “Jo’burg Child Welfare was also blessed with Madiba’s generosity. Our Thembalethu Street Girls Project in the inner city was one of the three beneficiaries that received a donation from Madiba following his Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.”

Lyn remembers that Madiba was humble and thanked her for her dedication and contribution made to children’s services. She was struck by “the selfless attitude shown by a man who gave his life to ensure freedom for all in South Africa. He strongly understood the importance of children being protected and raised with a family despite his incarceration that denied him the opportunity to be part of his own children’s upbringing.”

We mourn together with our partners and the people of South Africa at this difficult time, and we echo Lyn’s words: “It is important for us, however, to celebrate his life and emulate his values.”

 

South Africa Adoption Program: Our Partner Jo’hburg Child Welfare

Our momentous trip to South Africa this summer was inspirational in a number of ways.  Jo’burg Child Welfare (JCW) is a highly respected, 100+ year old NGO that does amazing work on behalf of the vulnerable children in Johannesburg.  Spence-Chapin is honored to partner with this historic agency whose mission is aligned with ours.

Jo’burg Child Welfare provides services to over 4,000 children and families annually and adoption (domestic and international) is only a small part of their work. They have four centers that house and provide for children of all ages, from infancy through the teenage years.  One of their centers also provides short-term housing to pregnant women. In addition, they recruit and train foster families, plan and prepare for children to be reunited with their birth families and provide intensive treatment to survivors of sexual abuse.

South Africa is home to more that two million orphans and JCW’s work makes a difference in the lives of some.  All of this and more make JCW an agency that is highly respected among its peers in the field as well as with the governing bodies of South Africa.  When the South African Ministry of Social Development’s Central Authority (the governing body that oversees adoption) was looking to expand their international adoptions, they received an overwhelming number of applications from agencies across the country.  Jo’burg Child Welfare was one of only two agencies approved for adoption to the United States.  During Spence-Chapin’s meetings with the Ministry, it was clear why they chose JCW.

The passion of the employees, from the Executive Director to the receptionist who greets you, was always apparent.  While visiting their sites, it was clear how each employee felt about their commitment to the well being of the children and how seriously they took the mission and purpose of their work. The vulnerable children of Johannesburg have a champion in Jo’burg Child Welfare and now Spence-Chapin.

Visit our Flickr set to see pictures from this trip.

South Africa Adoption Program: Program Development

Orphanages around the world have one thing in common: beautiful children who deserve a loving family to call their own.  While this theme is consistent, there are numerous differences that set them apart.  As the Coordinator of Program Development at Spence-Chapin, it is my responsibility to establish adoption programs that will be successful.  Success, in this context, is defined as identifying countries where there are children in need of families and confirming that the country has systems in place to process adoptions in a transparent and ethical manner.  South Africa meets these criteria perfectly.

Spence-Chapin South Afica Adoption Program

So what makes South Africa different?  Having placed children with families from Belgium and Finland for many years, Johannesburg Child Welfare Society (JCW) is experienced in international adoptions and has formalized procedures in place.  They are involved in all phases of the adoption process from monitoring the children in care to providing families with a cultural integration program while in South Africa.  JCW is responsible for written reports on the children, assessment of families, and providing the Central Authority with recommendations for placement; the process that JCW has established is about as seamless as it gets.

 

The care of the children is another area where this program differentiates itself.  JCW strives to provide an environment that caters to the overall development of the children in their care which includes their physical, emotional, spiritual, and educational needs. While many orphanages around the world struggle to meet the basic needs of the children in their care, the orphanages we visited in SoutSpence-Chapin South African Adoption Programh Africa were able to go above and beyond.  Understanding the critical impact that physical and emotional contact has during a child’s early stages of development, in 2011 Spence-Chapin established its first Granny Program in Africa at the Othendweni Family Care Center, an orphanage in Soweto that is home to 90 children—30 of whom range in age from just a few days old to four years.  Through this program, children are paired with experienced women in these communities, who spend special, one-on-one time with each of them. During our visit in July 2012 we witnessed the commitment of the staff and Grannies, and the genuine concern for the children.  Additionally, JCW has contracted with outside organizations including The Big Shoes Foundation and Thusanani Children’s Foundation who provide medical and developmental servicesJCW provides the children in their care with a solid foundation which inevitably makes the transition into their forever family that much smoother.

In short, when examining international adoption options, need and infrastructure often do not go hand in hand.  However, South Africa proves that it can be done and as a result children receive the critical love and care they need until they join their forever family.

 Gina Pariani, Spence-Chapin
 

Visit our Flickr set to see more pictures from this trip.

 

South Africa Granny Program

This spring Spence-Chapin proudly started our first Granny Program in Africa with the Othendweni Family Care Center, an orphanage in Soweto, South Africa that is home to 90 children—30 of whom range in age from just a few days old to four years. Othandweni is operated by Johannesburg Child Welfare Society (JCW), one of the oldest, largest and most respected organizations of its kind in the country.   In September JCW and Othandweni held a dedication event to introduce the program to the local Soweto community, which was attended by many community members and local media.

South Africa Granny Program

Every week, Monday through Friday, 20 children spend quality one-on-one time with their grannies.  JCW staff reports that they immediately began to see changes in the participating children, who now look for their grannies every day!

The introduction of a granny to a young child is literally life-changing; it gives that child the opportunity to live a healthy, confident and well-adjusted life. Orphanages are struggling to provide for the most basic needs of the children in their care and are asking for programs like this one to help them improve the lives of these little ones.

Our Granny Program is an outstanding humanitarian aid initiative that gives institutionalized children the opportunity to form important healthy attachments with a trusted adult. Due to our effective partnership and JCW’s strong oversight, 20 children are reaping the emotional and developmental benefits of having a granny.