Orphans in an orphanage and in foster care in the Inanda Informal Settlement : a comparative study exploring the ways the children cope with loss and create purpose in their lives.
Mthiyane, Ncamisile Parscaline.
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The number of orphans in South Africa is reaching crisis levels. This is a cause for concern. Most of the deaths seem to be due to the HIV/AIDs pandemic. Children left orphaned have to develop coping strategies. The focus of this study is on the perceptions the orphaned children have of their lives, the attributions they make for events, and the ways they cope. Most importantly, the study is interested in how they cope with loss and then recreate meaning and purpose. To assist these children, it is important to understand their feelings and thoughts after loss, and how they manage to adapt to new environments. This is only possible by giving the children voice and to see life through their eyes. A sample of ten orphans was randomly selected from a list of schools and learners provided by the Department of Education. Adolescents were chosen because they are generally more articulate than younger children, about their emotions and experiences. Five orphans from an informal settlement orphanage in Inanda, and five from a secondary school in the same area were interviewed. A semi-structured interview schedule and diaries were used to collect data from the children. Discourse Analysis was the method used to construct meaning of the material generated. Because the interviews were conducted in the first language of the children, translation into English was necessary. The Appendices provide sample transcripts. Some of the findings of the study were surprising. For example, it was evident that several of the children preferred living in an orphanage to being with relatives, who had, in some instances, offered to foster them. Abuse, alcohol misuse and marginalisation were cited as reasons. The assumption of the researcher had been that family would always be the better option. It was also found that the informal fostering of orphaned children from extended families meant that government grants were not forthcoming. Financial stresses and strains frequently resulted in the maltreatment of fostered children. Poverty and crime in the informal settlement studied seem to bring added burden to children already traumatised by death and the forced moving of home. Another feature that was significant, is the number of fathers who were "absent" when fostering became necessary for the children. Either through force of circumstances or choice, fathers who were still living frequently did not play a part in their children's lives. The recommendations of the study focus on rectifying the anomalies just outlined. Schools, in particular, need to recognise their role in alleviating the daily plight of orphaned children. Academic achievement often redeems a life that is tenuous and painful because it creates the possibility of something better in the future. Through effort the children can take greater charge of their lives.