Vulnerable Children – Loss and Gain

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve written a blog. Sometimes it is the bad news that is hardest to write about. But little Lina, twin sister to Linda, was taken to hospital last week. She died shortly after. It was heartbreaking to see her not smiling, not thriving and getting weaker and weaker. Thankfully, Linda is well and happy, but they look very similar, and it is difficult not to think of Lina when looking at her sister.

We must concentrate on the 24 beautiful, happy and healthy children here at Watoto Kicheko. But it is impossible not to wish something had been different, that we had done something sooner, or that some outcome was more positive. For the people who work here, there will always be a child that stands apart from all the other children in their memory. Many of our most vulnerable children settle in quickly and thrive, but not all, and some take longer than others.

Happily, some of our more vulnerable children who were fragile a few months ago are now doing well. Careen and Madeline have been at home for some time, becoming more alert, even smiling and laughing. Junior has been looking less uncomfortable and Esther has been happier. There is only one child in hospital, Eligiva, and we hope she will be back home soon.

Several of the children will be going to school soon, others should return to their community. Our very first children, twins Salva and Davey, will celebrate their fourth birthday in a couple of weeks. There will be changes at Watoto Kicheko; we just don’t know exactly which changes, or precisely when yet!

Not long ago I blogged about Enock being on the verge of walking. This week, he took his first few independent steps. He is very energetic and has long been our chief escapee. Now that he is even more mobile he will be a bigger handful, harder to watch, and more likely to be found hiding under a hedge, chewing a mouthful of mud and stones. But his antics are hilarious, a much bigger, more mischievous boy in a smaller skin, whose body hasn’t quite caught up with his imagination.

As well as playing with the kids and helping them with their standing, walking, learning, etc, some of our volunteers have been working on other small projects. One volunteer started building a hen house for our two adult hens, one rooster and ten chicks, who are about five or six weeks old now. We hope to have a functioning hen house at the end of this week. But things have a habit of not quite working out how you expect, so I’m glad I’m not a hen.

Maggie edited

Walking Talking and Other Challenges

Walking Talking Maggie

Walking Talking Maggie

One of our little girls is well past the age where she should be able to walk, 2 and a quarter years. But she has been neglected, and her skinny legs are weak. She is not confident standing, yet she can stand. So I stood her up, sat ten meters from her, and waited for her to walk over to me.

It took several attempts as she wanted to sit down again, but she eventually walked, then enjoyed a good cuddle. That was Wednesday afternoon. She walked again on Thursday afternoon and Friday morning. Each time I had to stand her up and coax her from 10 meters away.

Walking with Confidence

Walking Talking Maggie

Walking Talking Maggie

Maggie is not very confident, not like many of the other children here. But she is good natured and smiles and laughs when you play with her. Hopefully she will stand up of her own accord and walk without coaxing very soon. I’ll be looking out for that!

All the other children continue to be well. The ones who were sick, sad or otherwise a cause for worry are all improving, some very quickly. It’s easy to forget sometimes that there are children with very serious health problems, and children who will need treatment for their entire lives.

Palpable Happiness

But the happiness here at Watoto Kicheko is palpable; it’s a lovely place to arrive in the morning and to spend the day. Sometimes I get impatient with the administrative work I have to do and want to march upstairs and find out who is crying and why, who is doing something they haven’t done before.

Maggie, Glory and Elinipa started babbling this week. The only noises they had been making for the past weeks and months were sobs and wails (especially Maggie, whose wail would bring tears to a statue’s eyes). But Maggie and Glory seem to be copying each other’s baa baa baa noises and Elinipa mimics some of the sounds she hears around her, such as people’s names.

UK Volunteers

Walking Talking Learning Materials

Walking Talking Learning Materials

Here at Watoto Kicheko, several volunteers from the UK have been creating a bit of artwork and some learning materials for the kids. They have also spent time trying to get the kids to creat some artwork of their own. The facepaints were a treat at first, but once the kids decided to paint their own faces, and the faces of others, some of them didn’t look quite so good!

It has been another good week, all considered. The fundraising drive for part of Careen and Rose’s hospital fees has now closed. Sadly, we only raised 40% of the $2,000 we hoped for. But we are grateful to those who contributed and thank you very much. The good news is that they both continue to do well and stay healthy, which is the important thing. We wish all our followers a lovely weekend.

Rose outside

Healthy Children – Little to Report!

The news today may sound boringly similar to the last blog post. But coming in to work and finding that all the children are well and happy is the best thing about this job. The baby who had a temperature yesterday is well now, and happy. There were no reports of sickness and none of the kids looked ill or listless. Healthy children!

Healthy Children - Rose looking a lot better

Healthy Children – Rose looking a lot better

But the nicest part of the morning was watching a girl who had taken no interest in what was going on around her for months, suddenly taking part in group activities, throwing herself around the place, grabbing at everything, and everyone, that was close to her. All the other healthy children were glad to have her company again.

Healthy Children and Happy Staff

The staff coming and going stopped to watch her play happily, smile, clap her hands to the song, interact with others and generally behave as a three year old should. Sometimes when a child looks down-in-the-dumps, there is no telling how long it will last. But there were plenty of people delighted to celebrate her recent recovery.

Perhaps the only bad news is that one of the eleven chicks born a few days ago has died. Let’s hope the other ten survive to produce eggs for the kids. Food is very expensive and it goes up in price during Ramadan, for some reason. Go figure. As if we suddenly get lots more donations because it’s Ramadan/Christmas/Easter, etc!

Healthy Children’s Hospital Bills Appeal

Healthy Children - Elinipa brightening up our day

Healthy Children – Elinipa brightening up our day

There are now only five days left to contribute to our appeal for funds for what is just a small proportion of our hospital bills. As some may remember, Rose and Careen spent several months in intensive care. They are both now healthy children too, and we hope that will last. But the bills are still outstanding and they need to be paid. Watoto Kicheko has to depend on the good will of the hospital; we must pay the bills soon, however we raise the money.

We have only raised 40% of the money we hoped for, $2,000. Since the appeal started we have paid far more than that sum for other children, and by this time next month we will probably have paid that sum again. To put it in perspective, monthly hospital and health costs are enough to keep 6 or 7 kids for a month. So please do contribute something, no matter how small! Meanwhile, Watoto Kicheko wishes you a lovely weekend!

Richard and Enok

Eliciting Smiles: a Good Week All Round

When it comes to eliciting smiles, last week must have been one of the best in recent months. Not only did Margaret, our newest arrival, start smiling (and has continued doing so), but Elinipa also returned from hospital after 9 days there. She is now able to take part in games, enjoy her food and interact with the other kids, which she hadn’t been doing for some time.

Eliciting Smiles from Richard and Glory

Eliciting smiles from Richard

Eliciting smiles from Richard

Later in the week one of our very serious little crawlers, Richard, was also caught smiling. He has big, round eyes and it’s hard to get him to smile, so it was lovely to see. Then Glory’s mood changed, and she’s been much more cheerful than I’ve ever seen her. Eliciting smiles from her is challenging. She doesn’t usually play with the other kids, or even with the adults. But maybe she will cheer up even more once she learns to walk, which should be soon.

All 25 of the kids at Watoto Kicheko are at home. Even Careen and Rose, who have spent more of their lives in hospital than out, are doing well. Rose has been putting on weight, albeit slowly, which is wonderful to hear. She is spending more time awake and watching the comings and goings in the sitting room of the director, whose house she is staying in at the moment. The next task will be eliciting smiles from them, although they are still very small!

Eliciting Smiles all Week

Eliciting smiles from Margaret

Eliciting smiles from Margaret

So it’s worth celebrating these happy circumstances. There are three volunteers from the UK and they are teaching the kids songs, playing games with them, doing drawing and craft work and generally keeping them busy. The kids are happy, of course, but the most gratifying thing is seeing kids who normally find things difficult gradually adjusting to their surroundings.

Watoto Kicheko is a very happy place, as it should be. But sometimes kids may come here with illnesses, especially malnutrition, so it can take them a bit of time, and often a bit of medical care, too. Others may have been neglected, often because those caring for them have to work for a living and can not spend enough time with their children.

Finally, there are only 9 days left in our campaign to raise $2,000 to pay Rose and Careen’s hospital bills. This is just a fraction of the overall cost, and we have still only raised 40%, $600. So if you, or anyone you know, can donate something, please do sThe care and treatment have already been given and the girls are well, but we can not provide the neediest kids with lifesaving care without the kindness and generosity of our donors and sponsors.

Crowd of children

Sponsoring Children Vital for Education

Finding people who are interested in sponsoring children is a difficult task because there are not so many sponsors, compared to the number in need of sponsorship; and paying a significant amount of money regularly for a long time is a very big commitment. Some children even need sponsorship for the rest of their lives, which can be an even lengthier period.

Sponsoring Children at Watoto Kicheko

School Sponsorship - some have it, most don't

School Sponsorship – some have it, most don’t

Recently at Watoto Kicheko, we celebrated the news that our first two children will be sponsored to go to school, all the way up to the end of secondary school. Sending children to a good school here is very expensive. Sadly, state run schools are short of well trained teachers, supplies and anything else needed to give children a good education. This is why there is so much demand for people willing to consider sponsoring children.

Sponsoring Children and Social Media

In addition to our website and blog, Watoto Kicheko has a very active Facebook account, a Twitter account and a few other social media accounts. We could never have too many followers, supporters, people who share and even contribute to our posts and other social media content. We need as many ‘likes’, ‘shares’ and other tokens of support as we can get!

We love it when people tell their friends about our work and, more importantly, our needs. Sometimes we get donations and offers of support from people who have heard about Watoto Kicheko quite indirectly, through friends and acquaintances. This is great and it makes networking and other online work worthwhile.

There is a lot of goodwill around, and we are as thankful for the goodwill as we are for the donations and sponsorships. Sometimes goodwill even becomes more tangible, when someone decides to go a step further; they may start by praising our work, sending messages of support and commenting on pictures and posts online. But then they send money, gifts in kind, or they decide that sponsoring children is also something they could do.

We thank those who have contributed in any way, no matter how small. But most of all, we thank those who have enabled us to go further, to pay hospital bills that a child’s family would never have been able to afford, to fund an education that a child would never have received without help, to support a family so their child can be raised at home, in their community, or in any other way.

Poverty Gives Rise to Practical Needs

School Sponsorship - 2 of our 25 children have it

School Sponsorship – 2 of our 25 children have it

Poverty gives rise to very practical needs; everyone (almost) loves their children, but only some can afford to provide them with all that they require, particularly when they have special needs, chronic illness, disability or other problems. It is those needs that leads to organizations such as Watoto Kicheko looking for people who would consider sponsoring children.

Most of the schools (and many of the hospitals) here in Tanzania are ‘denominational’ or ‘faith-based’, they are Anglican, Catholic, Muslim, Pentecostal, or whatever (which is not to say that they all exclude followers of other religions, of course). But they may frequently have strong requirements relating to a child’s beliefs, and/or those of the child’s parents. However, none of them that I am aware of accept prayers as payment for fees! Donations and sponsorships save lives; it’s hard to think of anything more practical than that.

Margaret smiling edited

Margaret Smiling is like the Sun coming out

Margaret and Elinipa smiling

Margaret and Elinipa smiling

Margaret arrived at Watoto Kicheko only recently, and she didn’t look happy at all. Those who follow us on Facebook will have seen her sad face, so sad it would bring tears to your eyes. But that didn’t last.

Margaret smiling

Margaret smiling

Yesterday, Margaret started smiling and giggling after some laughter therapy from one of the other kids, some of whom are experts in the field.


Margaret Smiling Happily

Today I was greeted by a storm of excited kids, and I could see Margaret smiling happily, enjoying this new trick thoroughly. Seated beside her was Elinipa, just back from hospital; and Elinipa was smiling for the first time in ages.

Some of the kids here have chronic conditions, disabilities and various other problems. But there is a lot of happiness, too, and it’s most uplifting to see a child smiling and laughing who had previously looked sad.

Margaret and Elinipa smiling

Margaret and Elinipa smiling

We don’t really know what Margaret has gone through, except that her mother was unable to care for her to the extent that social services recommended that she be moved from home to Watoto Kicheko. She certainly needed good food and exercise, as she’s underdeveloped for her age (probably around two and a quarter).

But when I see a kid transformed like this in such a short time I know Watoto Kicheko really is doing a great job.

Salva and Davey long ago

School Sponsorship for Two of our Children!

It’s a great day for the whole Watoto Kicheko Center when a child receives school sponsorship because it means their school fees are covered until they graduate. With more than twenty children, that’s a lot of money. So today we were delighted to be informed that we have sponsorship for two of our boys.

School Sponsorship for Salva and Davey!

School Sponsorhips for Salva and Davey

School Sponsorhips for Salva and Davey

Twins, Silvamos (Salva) and Davis (Davey), who are almost four years old, are the lucky two. Claire, the on-site director, has been looking after them for much of their four years, since they were released into her care at less than one week old. For me, it was the first time I had any contact with premature children.

In their early months, Claire taught me about changing diapers and bottle feeding, things I would need to know very soon, she said. I now have a two year old and a two month old, both boys. So she was right. Now I am looking forward to the twins’ fourth birthday in August, and my own sons will be celebrating with them!

Lack of Childcare in Tanzania

The father of Silvamos and Davis is in the same position of many single fathers, which is not that different from the position single mothers are in. Childcare is not the norm and it is expensive. In rural areas it is simply not accessible. Most people have to work, but are unlikely to earn enough to pay someone to look after their children.

School Sponsorship - Davey

School Sponsorship – Davey

We hear a lot about ‘extended families’ and the like in developing countries, but even grandmothers and younger members of the family, generally female, have to earn a living. Child carers who are members of the family are generally expected to work without pay. But it is too much to expect someone to give up their chance of earning a living, no matter how small, and even give up several months or years of their life, to look after someone else’s children, unpaid.

Therefore, it is the aim of Watoto Kicheko to do as much as we can for the twins and their father, so that they can all keep in touch with each other. But the huge expense of education, health and other living costs will probably always be beyond the family’s reach. Hence the need for school sponsorship.

School Sponsorship - Salva

School Sponsorship – Salva

The twins are already in a position to take up this offer of school sponsorship, so they will spend short breaks with us, some time with their family, and term time at school. We are very grateful to the generous support we have received for these two boys and we hope to hear from other sponsors in the near future.

Thank you to our Generous Sponsors

If you are interested in learning more about school sponsorship or any of the other kinds of support we need, please visit our Get Involved pages, covering sponsorship, donations and other matters. Meantime, we wish you a fantastic weekend!


Child Carers and Other Baby Home Staff

Child carers at Watoto Kicheko

Child carers at Watoto Kicheko

Child carers at Watoto Kicheko are expected to perform numerous tasks, as any parent would understand. Each child  carer must look after several children at a time, while also looking out for other children that may ocasionally have strayed from the view of a colleague.

Child carer selection and training

But child carers at Watoto Kicheko are carefully selected, trained and mentored. And they certainly do a wonderful job. Naturally, they are adored by our children, to whom they are mothers, fathers, friends and teachers. Even when a child is in hospital, a carer must stay in the hospital with the child and make sure they are fed, changed and treated well.

Almost all our children are at home right now, here at Watoto Kicheko. Careen is still in hospital, but should be home soon. Junior is very sick, though. He has had some major medical treatment, to which he did not respond very well, so it is to be hoped that he will be back with us soon. We look forward to seeing him start to grow and develop as he should.

Child carers and tradition

Child carers at work

Child carers at work

While child carers are almost always female in Tanzania, it would be a mistake to think that the male staff here don’t do any child care work. All of them enjoy playing with our children, taking them out for walks and generally spending time with them. Indeed, the ‘tradition’ of children being almost exclusively the responsibility of women is beginning to change.

As I write, I can see six of the older kids playing. Amongst the laughter and shouting one of the twins is howling after falling over. Nothing serious, they always howl particularly loudly! But mainly the sounds are of the children running around joyfully, with the child carers giving occasional directions, administering sympathy and even playing happily themselves.

Children singing

Abandoned Children & Stigmatized Parents

Sometimes children are abandoned, either by a parent or by another relative or carer. If so, very little may be known about these abandoned children. Social services are often too stretched to investigate. And if a child is abandoned, those involved may do their best to make sure they are not easily discovered.

Abandoned children in orphanages and baby homes

Children singing at Watoto Kicheko

Children singing at Watoto Kicheko

So orphanages and baby homes that receive abandoned children can have very thin files about some in their care! Over time, it’s possible to build up details about the child, their health, education, development and other milestones. But their family, community and other origins may remain unknown.

Children themselves, sponsors, potential adoptive parents and others would like to know about children’s history. It is something the child is entitled to as they grow up, albeit away from their family and community. But at times we can only collect limited information, with some of it being highly questionable.

It is easy to raise questions about how parents, relatives and others can abondon a child. But it is worth bearing in mind that the mother may not have chosen to become pregnant, being too young, too poor, or just not ready. There are many other circumstances that may affect a mother’s ability to care for a child.

It’s also easy to blame fathers, but they and others who care for children are entitled to very little support, if any. There is no statutory paternal leave, and even that wouldn’t help a single father very much. But, again, there are all kinds of scenarios making it difficult or impossible to care for a child.

Lack of facilities available for children

People who care for children need to work, and few jobs include childcare facilities or time off for parental duties. It is rare to have a job that allows you to bring your child to work, and working environments are often not the most appropriate for children. In short, being a parent, especially a single parent, can be next to impossible.

While allowances are made for women under certain circumstances, this is rarely the case for men. They are generally expected to find someone to take care of his children, no matter how badly equipped or how inappropriate that person may be. Children can end up being looked after by the least experienced people of all, who can’t find any other job.

So abandoned children will remain a problem for those who care for them. There may well be opportunists who look for cheap childcare facilities, people who prioritize other concerns over their children, and some who abandon or neglect their children. But I suspect that the majority of children are in this precarious position because their parents or carers are themselves unable to cope.

Stigmatizing or blaming parents makes things worse

I’m not trying to make excuses for people who are not givingfailing to give to children, often their own children, the care to which they are entitled. But the finger-pointing mentality only increases the chances that those involved will try to keep their identity unknown. Placing the blame at the feet of parents and carers of children does not encourage them to seek help, to find a way to care for their children themselves, at home, or in their own community.

Child at Watoto Kicheko

Child at Watoto Kicheko

Of course, there are not many facilities, there is not much help to be found, Tanzania is a very poor country. But assuming that every abandoned child results from bad parenting does nothing to help the child; it does nothing to help find a way for that child to stay at home, with their parents, other relatives, or able carers.

It is far better if a child is brought to a facility, and the connection with their family and community retained, than for that child to be abandoned, without any idea of who their family or community is. For that to happen, parents and carers need to know that they will not be stigmatized just for seeking help, for trying to get the best care for their children, especially where they are unable to give them that care themselves, or unable to do so alone.

Jackline in boots

Special Needs, Health and Education

With Rose home, at last, we were hoping that we would have all our children here at Watoto Kicheko, for a change. But two of our children are now in hospital, Elinipa and Careen. Elinipa will have lifelong health needs, but she has been relatively healthy so far. Careen, however, has spent a good deal of time in hospital already, more than she has at home.

Children with Special Needs

Special needs at Watoto Kicheko

Special needs at Watoto Kicheko

Watoto Kicheko tends to receive children with special needs, particularly babies. Many are premature, some are abandoned, mothers die giving birth, there are disabilities, unexplained sicknesses and some who have identifiable sicknesses, but whose care is far too expensive for their family.

Tanzania is a poor country, with a high disease burden and patchy healthcare services. Only about half of women in Tanzania choose to give birth in health facilities. But that may be because they are aware that bad healthcare can be more risky than no healthcare. It is certainly more expensive than alternatives, such as community volunteers and others who have experience, but little scope for any difficulties during delivery.

There are few services for children with special needs. Basic equipment such as incubators are in short supply, as are equipment and supplies for intensive care facilities. But the biggest lack is the right training and education, even management and supervision, to care for especially needy babies and mothers. Hundreds of millions of dollars flow into the country for a handful of diseases. Take, for example, HIV; more than 99% of infants do not have HIV (and 95% of adults don’t).

Special Needs Sponsorship

Special needs at Watoto Kicheko

Special needs at Watoto Kicheko

Children with special needs who are lucky enough to get the care they need are often to be found in orphanages, baby homes and other facilities set up using donor funding, private sponsorship, foreign foundations and trusts. In fact, social services will often refer those with special needs to NGOs and other non-state funded institutions because they are the only places that can supply what is required.

Watoto Kicheko is run on funding from The Laughter of a Child Foundation, and that will allow a lot of children to grow up to be independent adults. But certain hospital and other costs for children with special needs have to be met through donations and other funds. School fees, also, are very high, and also need to be met through generous sponsors.

Tanzanian Baby Home for Special Needs

Watoto Kicheko is the only orphanage in the Arusha region that mainly caters for children with special needs, many of whose circumstances will require attention for the rest of their lives. So if you are able to provide sponsorship, partially sponsor a child, sponsor a member of staff, help pay for a project or for certain assets, or even make a once-off donation, please do get in touch. We’d love to hear from you!