Throw out the normal, bring in the abnormal
“We got married in 2002 and held down some very normal lives in Bath, England; rented a cozy flat in a middleclass suburb of the city and held down some average post-grad jobs (Jonny managing educational statistics - yawn - and Becky a newly qualified teacher). To add some spice to our routines, we signed up with our local Social Services (as it was then) to offer respite to foster-parents for children in care. Holidays and day trips with these children were a big part of our calendar year.
When the opportunity in Mozambique opened up, we knew it was the right step for us; the perfect way to bring something more exciting and 'unknown' into our lives. Combining travel to a new country alongside working with neglected children was the ideal duo. However, three months into our new lives in Mozambique, it wasn’t as dreamy and rosy as we had hoped. There were tough issues to face in becoming volunteers at the orphanage - we had to learn quickly, and at times felt on the edge of our sanity.
Zimpeto Children's Centre is a lively, chaotic home to over 250 children. We had only intended to volunteer for one year, but ended up staying for seven! During our time there, we fulfilled multiple roles; Jonny became the finance director and Becky delivered various key admin duties. However, one of the most memorable things we did was oversee the running of a dormitory of 30 boys, aged 9 - 12yrs. It was a hugely rewarding experience in the sense that we were able to provide many practical improvements to the children's lives.
The contrast of raising a family whilst living at the Orphanage
In tandem with our voluntary work, we decided to start a family and after one year in Mozambique, Gracie our eldest, was born. It was shortly after this, that we were hit with a conundrum:
“Should we settle down in England to pursue a career, family and house? Or do we carry on with our abnormal lives in Mozambique?"
It was a tough one to answer, but in the end our desire to help vulnerable children compelled us; hence we jumped with both feet (and a baby) back into our voluntary work.
Raising a family whilst working at the Children’s Centre gave a clear insight into what abandoned children don’t have when they grow up in an institution. Whilst we were proud of the way that the Centre was able to rescue children who were on death’s door, we could see countless more children who had lost touch with the safety and security of a family home. Raising Gracie and then her sister Honor, was in stark contrast to the children who lived in the dormitories all around us."
Better to ask a question than stay in the dark
"The longer we lived at the Orphanage, the more we questioned what we were doing and whether we were being effective in this environment. We began to envisage a form of care that was beyond the orphanage model, and began to consider the idea of providing family based care for abandoned children in Mozambique. Could this be possible in such a poor country where the need is so overwhelming?
We started to dream of the how it could look...
The more we pondered these things, the more we wanted to do something. We realised that the idea of family was such a core part of who we are and we hated the thought that some children have to grow up without a loving family around them. We began to search in Maputo for various projects and NGOs who were offering some form of foster-care, but we couldn't find anything.
By now, it was clear what our next steps were - to hand over our work at the Children's Centre and do everything we can to create family-based care for children in Maputo.
Starting from scratch
After leaving the Zimpeto Centre, we returned to the UK for two years to share our dream and establish a non-profit organisation to fund the vision of foster homes.
Happily, we are now back where we first stepped out - in Mozambique - doing something we believe is absolutely vital for the children here and their future. It's both scary and exciting to start completely from scratch. At times we wonder whether it's really possible, and yet we continue to feel compelled to do our best and see this vision become a reality."
To find out more about Jonny and Becky:
Have a look at their personal blogging site, Beauty in Broken Places.
You can also find out more about Zimpeto Children's Centre and it's parent organisation, Iris Ministries.