Helping Kids Worldwide combats the separation of children from their families


The best way to care for a child [is] to care for the caregiver,” said Emmanuel “Nabs” Mohamed Nabieu. He is the director at the Chantilly organization Helping Children Worldwide (HCW).

HCW works with local churches and partners to fundraise or develop international projects. The “worldwide” in HCW includes global advocacy efforts to “[teach] other organizations and government leaders that children belong in families, how to get children back home, and how to empower those families to stay together,” he said.

Among the millions of kids designated “orphans,” a majority of those in orphanages have living family members–often in poverty. Nabieu said in his experience the reason orphanages continued was not because of a lack of families or caregivers but because of poverty.

Sierra Leone’s Child Reintegration Centre (CRC), founded more than 20 years ago, originated HCW. CRC now encompasses Mercy Hospital, but it began as an orphanage (originally named the Child Rescue Centre)–where Nabieu resided after his father was killed during the civil war and he was separated from his mother at 7 years old.

He lived in the bush and on the streets for months after losing his parents, until he wound up with his uncle. CRC found him asleep on the street on one occasion and took him to the orphanage.

His uncle let him remain at CRC since he had access to resources there that his uncle couldn’t provide – a decision that many families living in poverty make.

“My dream was to go to school because I was living in extreme poverty–I saw poverty, I felt it in its naked form,” Nabieu reflected. “[At CRC] I was getting everything … food, education, healthcare.

“I believed that my dream of getting an education was getting fulfilled,” he said. His academics were strong, but he wished his relationship with his community was too. “I was missing my home, culture, language–everything.

“A safe, loving family is the essential source of belonging,” said Nabieu. “The families … provide access to their language, culture, history, social norms, and community. While residential care facilities … can provide for the physical needs, … [they] cannot provide that developmental, social, emotional support that children need.”

After 10 years of being separated from his family, Nabieu finally located and reunited with his mother when he was 19 years old.

“I still cannot speak my native language well. My little brother continues to be the one to interpret when I talk to my mom,” he said since the orphanage enforced speaking English for the benefit of interacting with missionaries.

Nabieu graduated from college and returned to CRC as a leader. “What if we can find a way to support families so they can stay together?” he pondered.

Supporting family cohesion could “reduce the trauma in those children from the separation … reduce dependency and allow those children to grow in harmony with their families,” said Nabieu.

“We are building the future of these children, but we are doing this without involvement from their families. I realized we needed to [build] a future that’s including their families,” he said.

“My mom always used to tell me, ‘Nabs, if you don’t know where you are going in this world, always know where you are coming from,’” he recalled. Connecting the kids at CRC with where they came from started with accurate family tracing tools.

Nabieu was pursuing his Master’s and applying those skills with change management while incorporating the identified families of the children. They approached the new, emotional process slowly, inviting families to visit the kids at CRC to initiate bonding opportunities.

As the children and families were reconciled, the vision behind CRC’s name change (from “rescue” to “reintegration”) percolated down to the purpose of their buildings and staff. Nabieu then moved to the U.S. with his wife and settled in Northern Virginia while working with HCW.

“Transitioning is not the end of anything, transitioning is the beginning of everything,” Nabieu asserted. Nabieu makes a few annual trips to do fieldwork in Sierra Leone when he is not spending time on community engagement in Chantilly. County support helped realize CRC’S transformation.

By collaborating with their stakeholders and donors, they repurposed the orphanage with a public library, playground, and educational opportunities for kids and their families–complete with overnight rooms for families who traveled to attend classes at CRC.

Empowering the families completes reintegration. “We want families to be able to meet their own needs as much as possible,” he said. It’s about “shifting from a handout approach to a hand-up approach,” he added.

The caregivers at the orphanage were trained as case managers to support families. CRC hosts financial literacy classes for families and offers loans to those with businesses. 

“Finding the best way to meet the needs of vulnerable children is to strengthen the capacity of their families and communities,” said Nabieu.

Strong families lead to strong communities. By focusing on the ecology of each child–the surroundings that support the child–HCW and CRC have reduced the number of children deprived of their families for the sake of access to fruitful resources.

“It’s about shifting the focus of individual [children] and thinking of … the context of the larger system surrounding the child,” Nabieu said.

Visit https://bit.ly/3QhNFot to learn more about Nabieu’s organization.

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