Meeting the needs of orphans and vulnerable children is often best accomplished through partnerships with the local communities and ministries who are leading the day-to-day responses. The Alliance for Children Everywhere (ACE) supports this principal in their work on behalf of children and families in Zambia. ACE is a Christian nonprofit child welfare organization in Tucson, Arizona that was founded in 1969 by Virginia “Jennie” Woods. ACE’s overarching approach to caring for orphans is to empower professionals, families, churches and communities to care for and support children and families in crisis within their own cultural context. In 1997, ACE accepted an invitation to travel to Lusaka, Zambia where the orphan crisis was devastating. Knowing that the local church had the best connection to the community, ACE brought Zambian church leaders together to discuss the best approach to caring for the country’s orphans. An interdenominational*, Zambian led organization was formed called Christian Alliance for Children in Zambia (CACZ). In partnership, ACE and CACZ work together to care for orphans and vulnerable children in 3 major areas:
- Address the root cause of abandonment through programs that target high-risk families and work with them to keep their children. For example, their Milk and Medicine program provides food to families with children from birth to five years, often preventing abandonment.
- Crisis care for infants and young children abandoned or orphaned, while providing social work services to place children back into restored families, extended families, foster families, or adoptive families. Premature and high-risk babies receive nursing care at the House of Moses, while toddlers receive temporary skilled family care at the Bill and Bette Crisis Nursery.
- Partnership with churches to provide free primary and secondary education to the most vulnerable children.
The overriding philosophy is to first keep the family together, and second if a family is disrupted, to reconcile and reunite them, giving them tools to sustain a secure environment. A Story of Mercy In Zambia, it is illegal to abandon babies; a crime punishable by imprisonment in prisons too wretched to imagine. Nevertheless, the police often bring to the House of Moses babies they have found abandoned, many on the garbage dumps around the city of Lusaka. One night there was a knock on the door at the House of Moses and the nurses received a tiny baby nestled in a cardboard box. This was no ordinary baby. This baby had been carefully wrapped in an old but clean blanket and was surrounded by carefully folded clothes. As they were bathing and examining the child, caretakers discovered in a fold of the blanket a scrap of paper with the loving message; “This is my daughter, Mercy. Please take care of her for me.” CACZ social workers, contacted the police beseeching them to “turn their heads” as the workers tried to find living relatives. Shortly thereafter, the mother and a grandmother were found and encouraged to visit Mercy at the House of Moses. They were given a small sum of money to travel by bus from their home across the city, a journey that took nearly two hours. When they arrived they were warmly welcomed. After listening to the mother’s story, and seeing the love for the child in her eyes, she was taken to see her daughter. In a poignant moment, the young mother asked her daughter’s forgiveness for abandoning her. Mercy was weak and malnourished. She stayed a few months at the House of Moses to build up her strength while at the same time the social workers counseled her mother and grandmother to make sure they felt emotionally ready and secure enough to take her home. Before discharge the family was enrolled in the Milk and Medicine program. By the time she left, the family had a support system in place; a church family, food and Little Bits (a micro-nutrient supplement) for Mercy. At the Milk and Medicine monthly meetings they are provided food, assessment of their child, and interactions with women and families in similar situations, each receiving encouragement and counseling to support success. Today, Mercy is a happy, healthy little 5-year-old! When families are empowered, they can better care for their children. The Alliance for Children Everywhere demonstrates the importance of listening to families and involving them in meaningful decisions that affect their lives. *Churches include those representing the Baptist, Church of Christ, Church of God, Episcopal, Evangelical, Lutheran, Methodist, and Presbyterian denominations.