We met with the proprietor of Little Saints Orphanage and president, Association of Orphanage Owners in Nigeria (ASSOON), Rev. Mrs. Dele George. She throws more light on these issues and tells us more about orphanages in Nigeria, their association ASSOON and more. Exerpts…
What motivated you to establish an orphanage?
I am a minister of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. I was ordained in 1993. I got saved in 1957 and since then I just had this desire or burden to contribute to the kingdom of God because when you get saved and become a child of God all you will want to do at that time is to render back to God in appreciation of what he has done for you and I have always been very passionate with children, I empathize with children a lot and so God started leading me in that direction. It all started by God inspiring me to do something for orphans. So it’s a call from God, it’s a spiritual assignment. I don’t see it as something I have to do because I want to help people no! It’s a commitment, calling for one to want to do something for God and if you want to do something for God then it means doing something for people. So, God directed me in this area which gave birth to Little Saints Orphanage.
How has it been managing this home?
It’s been very challenging but the thing about it is, when God gives you a call, he gives you the grace. So many people wonder how we are able to manage this place and all I say to them is that, its grace. Because I really cannot point out the particular thing that am doing to make this possible, I just give my time, energy and resources and God does the rest. It’s just the grace of God, he surrounded me with a lot of very good people like my husband for instance has been very supportive, giving us some facilities that we need to take care of the children. Also some very patriotic Nigerians also gave us facilities. We also have patrons who contribute to the orphanage, also sponsors that helps us with the children’s education. So, it’s just a function of reaching out to people and making appeal to them. Sometimes they respond and sometimes they don’t. In all, it’s just God.
Tell us about the categories of children you have here?
We have babies brought to the orphanage by the police and social welfare. Right now the youngest child we have is 3 months old and the oldest child present in the orphanage is 18years old. We have a lot of young adults that are now in the higher institution, some are doing their National Youth Service (NYSC). If we put their numbers together, I will say they are over a hundred. Also we used to have children that were abused or neglected but recently in 2010, the Minister of Youth and Social Development insisted that orphanages begin to specialize. In our own orphanage we have abandoned children or orphans mostly. We also have few cases of abused children.
Where do these children go after the orphanage and do u follow up on them?
Right now we have children that have left. The best thing we believe we can give to our children is education apart from the care. That’s why little Saints orphanage insists and solicit for funds for their education because that’s the best gift we can give. Like the say, it is better to teach a man how to fish than to give him fish. Right now we have children that have graduated from the university and some that have started working in the society so we just act like a normal parent will act because I have children that have finished school and are working. So you give them the initial support that they need because it’s not easy these days. During my days when you graduate companies will give you a job and a car but things like that don’t happen anymore. We try as much as possible to support them. One of our children is getting set to marry, her fiancé is abroad and after the wedding she will be travelling with her husband abroad so eventually we say goodbye to all the care we give to them. It’s a process; we just don’t throw them into the society and tell them to face their live no! We have to be there as parents, we don’t really look at it like they came from an institution so let them go and fend for themselves. If you have the heart of a parent you will want to make sure that they are okay. For instance when they are getting married, the fiancé’s people will want to meet the parents of the orphan and so we stand in as parents, the missionaries as uncles and aunties and usually, it’s always an interesting and colorful occasion.
What’s your take on orphanages used for human trafficking and prostitution?
It can never happen now in this dispensation. Many orphanages that are not up to standard have been closed down completely by the government and the children removed to good orphanages. Also we have an association now that is kind of in control of the standard of orphanages. We meet regularly to discuss our challenges and look at way forward. And so, things are just getting better and better and we give glory to God for that.
What steps is your orphanage taking to reintegrate these children back into the society that stigmatize and abandoned them?
One thing the society should know is that it is wrong to institutionalize children and the Ministry of Youth and Social Development is very keen about that so the first thing we think about is how do you empower the child, how do I prepare the child for the larger society and not how do I institutionalize this child. So you begin immediately to prepare the child for reintegration and that is why we focus mainly on education. And so, at whatever state the child needs to be reintegrated back, the child needs to be prepared. If it’s a baby and needs to be adopted, that’s a means of reintegration. You reintegrate the baby back into the society through adoption. This means that the child must be healthy, okay for the family to adopt. Also, you can reintegrate through fostering because there are children in the orphanage that are a little bit older than the normal age of adoption. A lot of people like to adopt children below three years and sometimes a child can get to the age of six or seven and not adopted for so many reasons. That kind of child can now be fostered. That child is aware of his circumstance and so the parents will have to spend some time in getting to know that child. If they are happy with the child’s character and they accept the child as theirs and the child is fully reintegrated into the society can actually change it into adoption after 18years. We also reintegrate children through employment. For instance we have some children that have finished school at the moment and are looking for job. Through this, they are being reintegrated back into the society. And so, no orphanage under the Lagos State ministry is allowed to institutionalize children rather they are supposed to be reintegrated back into the society.
Who are your partners in financing this orphanage?
The people I will call partners are our sponsors; those who support the education of these children. Many of them are very committed because they know these children and asuch are very committed. People also come in from time to time to give gifts. We don’t have partnership with any organization because no organization has committed to us to that level. Organizations most times donate at Christmas and after that, move on to other things. So we don’t really have partners, what we have are individuals that love God, that love the less privileged and reach out to them. These people you will not call them rich because they are just people who love God and love to give. Right now I will say to you that, if we really have the support of partners like cooperate organizations, Little Saints will be doing a lot more than we are doing because we are 20years and in 20years we have only been able to build two facilities on our own apart from that which was donated and I believe that we would have done more by reaching out to other states if we had the support of people has we expected. I don’t have any complains because God has been very faithful. The children are eating, they are healthy and they are going to school.
Mention the facilities that you have on ground at the moment?
Right now we have four branches, we have one at Akowonjo for boys, and in that home we have a library, a hall, their sleeping quarters and an office. Also we have a sick bay where the children are treated when they are sick and a baby care unit. The same thing applies to the girl’s home at Abuleegba. We also have the girl’s home at Obudu. That house was donated by a patron in 2005 and that is where the older girls from 14 and above are living. We have a new one at Warri, somebody donated it to us there and we were able to open a branch of our home in Warri. In all the homes we have library, dispensary etc.
What are the modalities for adopting children here?
In Lagos State when you want to adopt a child, you go through the Ministry of Social Development. They are the ones who will give the adopter the requirement. Most of the requirements are documents and ones they present these document, it will verified to ensure that the document is authentic. After that, they will be called for an interview, if they pass the interview, they will be given a letter to adopt a child from any orphanage of their choice. If they bring the letter to us for instance, we will look at the family and pick a children that we feel suitable for that family .They will now look at these children and choose the one they want. We will then report to the Ministry who will give us the go ahead to release the child to the family. On the day of adoption, the Social Welfare will be present to make the presentation to the adopting family. But right now, we have a very long waiting list.
Do u have celebrities who visit your orphanage?
Oh yes! We have many of them who come around. Our favorite celebrity is Dakore, she loves Little Saints, she is always with us whenever we have activities and AY the comedian, he celebrates his birthday with the children very often. We have a lot of celebrities who come especially at Christmas and valentine.
How do you manage inmates with psychological trauma?
Many of them experience that especially when they come in newly. Most of them come in a state of depression but we have a resident pastor living in the orphanage and we have fellowship with the children every Sunday. Immediately the children are counseled when they come in. the rush of love, the provision; when they come in everything will change, their cloth, their food etc. And so somehow they become comfortable and another thing about kids is that they love their own company, they like being around kids like them so, ones they see other children they are happy, they play and within a few days they just blend in and before you know it they are moving around laughing. Within a few months they forget totally and even if they remember, they don’t remember with sadness because that sadness has been taken away. What their parents would have done for them is being done for them. They might miss their parents but it’s not the case that they become depressed and unhappy. Because we focus on education, they become preoccupied with school, making new friends at school, having dream for the future totally removes that sadness and depression. In all the orphanages in our association, the children are happy. Orphanages are totally different now not like the way it was in the past.
Tell us about the standard that an orphanage must have to be recognized by your association?
First of all they must have their own facility. It is not enough for you to be running orphanages in your own residence or in an office. Also the standard of care must be very high in that, the children must be healthy and another thing that is required is that you should have medical support because when children come from the street, they are traumatized and they need counseling, replenishment of all kinds of vitamins and so they need medical support and thank God the Government hospitals are very effective. If orphanages go there, they do get a lot of help from them. To have a good network of supporters is very necessary.
What are your goals as president of ASSOON?
Our plan is to bring other orphanages all over in other states of the country under the umbrella of ASSOON so that the standard of orphanages can be the same all over in Nigeria. We want to raise the standard because we still hear of stories of orphanages in the some remote areas of the country and so our hope and our plan get support to go into all these areas and raise their standard, help them in all the ways that we as an association can help them. We also want to remove the stigma attached to orphanages permanently. We want people to know that orphanage is a good place where children that are either abused or abandoned can be cared for temporarily until their families are found.
Do you enjoy financial support from the Lagos State Government?
No, we don’t enjoy any financial support from them. Although the First Lady, Mrs. Fashola do make her own donations as a person we don’t get any financial support from the government and we have been clamoring that at least they should map out something for us in the budget no matter how small and I believe they will hear us.
Can u mention the names of high profile personalities who are products of this orphanage?
They are still young although one of my daughters is working on a movie “Last Minute”. She is a graduate of Sociology and she graduated with a second class upper so she is producing a movie and very soon she will be high profile. Her name is EvelyneUdor George.
Do you have any advice for the public?
Every human being has a responsibility to assist the less privileged. It’s a responsibility because for us to be the hand that gives is a privilege and we should accept our responsibility and stop making excuses. Some will say the reason they don’t give to orphanages is because of this or that and those kind of people have never visited to actually know what goes on. My advice is visit an orphanage, choose one that is close to you and commit to helping that orphanage and I believe that it will bring fulfillment to that person and help our nation in general because it is said that a nation that leaves its children to suffer is compromising its future. Let us not leave these children to be abused, don’t let us leave them to suffer because it will spell a bleak future for our country. If we don’t take care of the less privileged, they will turn around to take by force that which was deprived them in the beginning and they will take from our children who are privileged. It’s an opportunity to give especially since its Christmas period because the best way to show that you have is by giving.