HANCI (Help A Need Child International)

Help A Needy Child (HANCI) is a local child protection organisation. Since its inception HANCI has focused specifically on reintegrating vulnerable children who were forcefully separated from their families and communities as a result of the 10 year long civil war. They do this by involving the children, their families and the wider community in all aspects of the reintegration process.

HANCI works with varied and different groups of vulnerable children, who's problems have long been ignored by much of society.

The girls and boys who participate in the projects can be loosely categorised as follows:

War Orphans

These are children whose parents or care-givers were murdered during the war and who then had to flee to safer places.

For the past six years HANCI have been able to trace and locate families for over 800 separated war orphans, either with extended relations, or where in the best interests of the child, in foster placements within their communities of origin. HANCI work with these families and communities for a long time after the initial reintegration process to ensure it has the best chance of success .

Street Children

These are a slightly different category of vulnerable children who were separated from their families and communities as a result of the war or because of family breakdown as a result of several other factors.

Most of these children are boys, and were involved in the war in some way. After the ceasefire they were abandoned by their rebel captors who refuted accusations of using child soldiers. These children have no place to call home, nor a community to return to, so they are forced to make the street their home. They are constantly exposed to further forms of abuse and exploitation in their daily battle for survival, and as a result have lost all trust in adults and their peers alike. HANCI have been able to reintegrate 300 street children, either with their families or extended family members or in foster placements with their communities of origin. However, there is still a good number of children who continue to seek refuge on the streets of Sierra Leone, now more often as a result of neglect, abuse and exploitation by family or the general community, particularly those people looking for cheap labour.

Teenage Girl Mothers

Like the street children, the teenage girl mothers are a category of girls in their teens who were captured during the war and were forced and held against their will as slaves by the fighting forces.

When they were released after the war most of them had become mothers (some as young as thirteen years old) or were pregnant. The girls tried to return home to re-join their families. Upon returning they were rejected by their communities and families who viewed them as rebel collaborators and therefore wanted nothing to do with them. They had nowhere to seek help to prepare them with parenting skills for their unwanted babies. Most of the girls took to prostitution as means of survival in a very hostile environment, exposing them to exploitation and HIV and AIDS. Then the girls asked HANCI to help. At the moment HANCI have been able to reintegrate 300 girls and their babies back with families, and back into mainstream school. However, like the street children, the number of girl mothers is also on the increase as a result of poverty and a breakdown in the social family structure of Sierra Leone.

Why HANCI needs vehicles

HANCI's work with these girls and boys has been so successful in the long term as a result of the extremes they go to provide intensive follow-up and support to those children and families who they are helping to reclaim their lives. As a result, HANCI's approach has been recognised by both local and international NGOs, and the Sierra Leone government, and is now classified as a model of best practice.

However, the capacity and speed of the reintegration of teenage mothers has really been constrained as a result of HANCI's limited transport system. For example, social workers have to use motorbikes to carry both mother and baby which is a slow and dangerous practice in remote areas where roads and vehicle are poorly maintained. It also limits HANCI to helping only one beneficiary (out of hundreds) at any one time. HANCI are very proud that since the start of this reintegration there has not been an accident as a result of this means of transport, but they feel that the addition of robust 4x4 vehicles would allow them to perform their reintegration and follow up process with teenage mothers in a much safer environment for the girls, their babies, and the staff.

The follow up work in the reintegration process of separated children is crucial as the family tracing process as this ensure a smooth reconciliation process of the children with their families and communities at large. The vehicles will be of greater benefit to both children who have been reintegrated and those who are still awaiting reintegration in the Northern and Southern province of Sierra Leone where the number of separated children is sadly still on the increase.

Notes

HANCI is registered under the Ministry of Development and Economic Planning, and within the ministry of Social Welfare Gender and Children's Affairs. Many of the children's situations will actually cut across several, or all, of the categories. They are listed here like this in an attempt to make their circumstances easier to understand without going in to too much detail.

HANCI do not view the act of reintegration as a single solution. They believe that for it to succeed and be sustainable, that both the children and families must be part of a long process which deals with the concerns, expectations and individual needs of each beneficiary group for a long time after they have initially been reintegrated.

The St. George Foundation

The St. George Foundation was setup as a result of an aid visit to Sierra Leone in early 2004. Hundreds of unhealthy kids, that we saw everywhere in the city, were mostly war orphans living off their own wits, totally unloved and uncared for by anyone.

These children end up living off scraps that they beg or steal, or trade their labour or sexual favours for. It's commonplace for girls of 9 or 10 to prostitute themselves, exposing them to an absolutely deadly game of Russian Roulette played with the AIDS virus. They all get involved in petty crime and the community come to see them as a real nuisance and lose sympathy, trapping them into a life of misery. They often don't eat for days, and the lack of a proper diet, lack of sleep because they never actually go to bed and the total lack of any adult supervision or education, their physical condition, their self esteem and their chances in life are gradually lost.

They didn't ask for their families to be murdered and their homes burned down, and for children of junior school age to have to live like this is absolutely wrong and to do nothing about it is even worse.

The two founders, Justina Conteh (in Sierra Leone) and Philip Dean (in England) had a very simple policy, out of which every objective grew: 'Treat every child and react to every situation as if these children were actually our own real children'.

 

1. Alleviate physical hunger and ensure the children are fit and healthy.

2. Ensure that any medical conditions are attended to.

3. Make the children feel safe, free from stress and able to relax in the knowledge that people do care about them.

4. To ensure the physical safety of the children and provide shelter and accommodation in a caring environment, either in our own centre or in foster care depending on which is most suitable and available.

5. To build each child's self esteem and self confidence, teaching the children to tolerate and respect those around them.

6. To provide education and where ever possible to return the children to main stream education.

7. To ensure that the children have the opportunity to follow a faith

8. Develop a good profile for the project within the community so that to be known as a St George's child will work for them in a positive manner. Remove all stigma of being a street child so that this is not carried with the children in later life.

9. In all possible cases the children should be returned to their families through a reunification project.

10. Be prepared to support the children into young adulthood and assist them in finding careers and creating their own futures.

 

 

 

In all possible cases the children should be returned to their families through a reunification project.

Working from information that the children gave us we have been able to locate relatives for about 90% of the children. With help from UNICEF and GAOL (an Irish charity) we have reunified nearly 60 children with their relatives in 2005, and replaced them with new children off the streets. This is when the children are most vulnerable to returning to the streets as adjusting to family life can be a very unpleasant shock. We visit the children twice a week (initially) after reunification at school and home to ensure they settle and so far not one reunification has failed because of the child. We have however taken two boys back due to lack of care.

Preparing the children for life at home and being able to keep in constant contact when they first go home is very important. There is a real danger of the children going backwards once they leave us, and we have decided to allow all the children to reunite with their St George family every school holiday. We have been very careful to make sure that the children understand that we have not forgotten them once they leave us and by having regular return opportunities it’s never too long before they are all back together again. We have not had a single reunification fail, which is very rare.

Our only transport is a couple of motorbikes to make sure that we can get to the children in out of the way places on a regular basis. These are, by their very nature, not a good method for transporting children around. We need good quality 4x4 transport to continue and grow our vital work in this country.