I used to travel for work and frequently went to Sri Lanka, where there is no foster care and many children live in orphanages. I wanted to help so for a few dollars a month I sponsored a girl whose father was dead and mother was unable to care for her. I was luckier than most sponsors, because I could actually meet her. However, the facility where she lived was several hours drive from the capital where I worked. I saw her as often as I could, but sometimes I couldn’t spare the time to go down south to visit her. During those trips, I visited the infants and toddlers at an orphanage managed by the same group and located near my office.
Those babies broke my heart. They had been placed at this facility due to nutritional or health needs that required special care. I was assured that their care was better than the care in any other orphanage in the country – and it probably was. But no amount of institutional care could meet the love and attention needs of these babies.
As I walked into their room, those who were able would pull themselves up in their cribs and reach out for me. The infants who were alert, but too small to stand up, followed me with their eyes. The sickest and weakest would not respond to my presence at all. I would pick one baby up and hold her for awhile and the staff would urge me to put her down, saying “If you hold her too much, she will cry more.” I’d put that infant down and pick up another. I was never sure whether it was better to hold one for the entire time, or hold as many as possible so they could all get a chance to feel my love, no matter how fleeting.
The staff would tell me stories of how the babies came there. Some had been abandoned – and luckily found in time. Others were signed over by their mothers at the hospital upon birth. Still others were the children of children – their mothers girls of only 13 or 14 who had been raped by their fathers, uncles, brothers.
And these babies were the lucky ones. Yes, their life would be difficult. They would most likely live in a succession of orphanages until they aged out at 16 – penniless and facing an uncertain future. But they would survive. Other babies would not be so lucky – they would die before they had a chance at life.
Every day, 18,000 children worldwide die from disease, violence, malnutrition and other preventable causes. Sri Lanka has made great strides in reducing the mortality rate of children under 5 years old from 21 deaths per 1000 live births in 1990 to 10 per 1000 in 2012. But in many other countries, the rate is much higher. In India, which has also reduced their child mortality rate, the number in 2012 was 52 per 1000. And in Nigeria it was 124. That is why I applaud the work of Save the Children and their Millenium Development Goal 4 which aims to reduce these deaths by two thirds by 2015, through campaigns to improve medical care, nutrition, education and effect policy changes. You can learn more about these efforts and progress toward this goal here. Please spread the word about Save the Children and help save a child today.