A Family for Every Last Child…Foster Care in Dadaab Refugee Camp

Sunday 26 November 2017

By Patrick Wekesa & Caroline Kwamboka

Zamzam holding Yasin* an abandoned baby

Located in the north of Garissa County in Kenya, Dadaab is the world’s largest refugee camp hosting half a million refugees from more than 10 countries, but mainly from neighbouring Somalia. Violence against women and children is a norm here. Many teenage mothers and innocent girls go through harrowing untold experiences in the camps: some are lured into early marriage as a way out of poverty; others get involved in casual relationships with older men and end up pregnant. 

In patriarchal and male chauvinistic societies like those of communities in Dadaab it is extremely hard to break the news of premarital pregnancy, let alone get support. Majority of the children born out of casual relationships are abandoned by their mothers for fear of stigma and discrimination.

Save the Children with funding from the German Federal Foreign Office (GFFO) has set up community structures to respond to the needs of vulnerable children including abandoned children, unaccompanied minors, separated and vulnerable children. The project facilitates training of foster parents to ensure they are ready to provide alternative care for children without parental care and hence at risk. To effectively meet the needs of these children, Save the Children supports foster parents through Income Generating Activities (IGAs), essential materials to support their care for the children such as household items, books, uniforms and capacity building on good parenting.

Yasin*… an abandoned baby whose life was saved by a foster parent

Yasin* (not her real name) is barely two months old. Born in July 2017, Yasin was found dumped at Bosnia market in Ifo 1 Camp. Zamzam, a mother of two and a business lady says she was on her way to the market when she found the baby.

“It was a chilly morning in July. I was on my way to Bosnia market when I heard the cry of a baby and went closer to discover that indeed it was a baby.  The baby lay on the bare ground helpless. I took the child to hospital for check-ups as I was not sure if she was still alive,” says Zamzam.

Zamzam says when she arrived at the hospital, Yasin was attended to by the doctors and later the hospital management reported the incident to the local police for investigation and tracing of the child’s mother. Save the Children staff based at Ifo 1 Camp were contacted by the block leader, Kamil Hussein. They visited the child at the hospital and found that the child was in good health and ready for foster care placement. 

 Explaining the process of handling abandoned children, Omar, the Sub-County Children Officer says: “Any child found on Kenyan soil is presumed to be Kenyan and therefore must be taken to the government institution for registration and thereafter foster placement is done after six weeks. This is not a new directive; it is in the Kenyan constitution. In this case the child was expected to be taken to Garissa child protection rescue center.”

Zamzam at home with Yasin* during the interview; her son looks on

 “The community members were reluctant to have Yasin taken away as they feared that the child would not be returned to the camp. Their fears are linked to Somali tradition and culture which purports those Somali children should live with their relatives and not any other person, says Omar.

Save the Children works closely with Sub-County Children’s Officer to conduct training for foster parents and community leaders. The trainings are aimed at reducing stigma and discrimination on children living under alternative care. 

According to Omar, Zamzam had approached his office requesting for the child to be under her care. ”I did the in-depth home assessment and interviews for three potential foster parents who had expressed interest in taking care of the child but found Zamzam  to be the most eligible. Zamzam is a married woman with two children under her care and her husband, Weli works in one of the agencies in the camp. Zamzam owns a hotel at Bosnia market and the income she gets will support the child. Two weeks down the line the child was handed over to Zamzam,” says Omar. 

Save the Children staff recently visited Yasin and found her to be in good health. She is now one month old and appears to have bonded well with Zamzam and her family. Save the Children will be supporting the family with material items for the wellbeing of Yasin. 

 “I am so grateful for Yasin and I count myself blessed to have rescued her. I will really take good care of her until she attains age of maturity,” says Zamzam. Zamzam has been issued with Foster placement Certificate from Dadaab Sub County Children’s Office. Yasin’s registration by UNHCR and issuance of birth certificate will soon follow as these documents are necessary to enable her access services in the camp and have a sense of identity and belonging to the foster family.

Project background: 

The family based alternative care is one of the interventions used by Save the Cjhildren in the child protection project in Dadaab refugee camps funded by GFFO, UNHCR and UNICEF. The intervention which has been part of the project since 2007 is aimed at providing a family and safe home for children who are unaccompanied, abandoned and separated. Save the Children works hand in hand with foster parents and community structures who volunteer themselves and their homes for children who need care and protection.

Save the Children has for the last three years placed over one hundred children in foster homes, and facilitated training for over 150 foster parents and trained over 100 community leaders.

Zamzam receiving support from Save the Children