By Shorai Nyambalo, UNICEF Malawi
During her time at the orphanage, Maria Vasco would cry for no apparent reason. The toddler was so miserable, some even considered her troublesome.
“When visitors came she would cry all day because people would play with the younger children and not bother with Maria,” says Rex Mbewe, the orphanage matron.
But unlike some of the other children at the Open Arms Infant Home, Maria, 2, from Kanthethe village, in Ntcheu district, had an immediate family.
Her grandmother had reluctantly given up the little girl as she not able to care for her. Maria’s mother died giving birth to her and her twin, who also later died.
Maria’s grandmother, Rosina Kamfosi, was pregnant at the time and had her hands full with other children.
“I started wet nursing Maria so that she could get the needed nutrients for her growth and survival,” said Kamfosi.
“But because I was only seven months pregnant, I was not producing enough milk.”
During a medical appointment, a nurse suggested to Kamfosi that she let the orphanage take Maria and ensure the toddler got the care she needed.
“Even though they explained to me the importance of sending Maria to the orphanage, I wanted to stay with my grandchild at home.”
Eventually Kamfosi decided giving up Maria was best. At the orphanage Maria was assigned three caregivers who worked shifts looking after her and five other children.
But as days turned into months and month into years, Maria became unhappy as she lacked the attention she needed and did not receive enough affection.
Fortunately, Maria was identified to take part in a reintegration program and in the end was placed back with her grandmother.
“We reintegrated Maria after preparing her for the reunion. She is now happy in a family setting,” said Bridget Kapinza, a local district social welfare officer.
Today, Kamfosi and her husband have five children, all of them attending school and progressing well.
The family is hardworking and is now better able to look after Maria. They grow maize and rice for food, and make hoes which they sell to generate income.
Afrooz Kavian-Johnson, UNICEF Malawi’s chief of child protection said governments usually preferred family-based care over placing children in institutions. “The Malawi Government has similarly adopted this approach and has been implementing the reintegration program since 2017,” she said.