Bollywood actress Sushmita Sen is proud of becoming a mother by adopting two girls. She often expresses her joy of adopting the two girls, Renee in 2000 and Alisah in 2010. News agency IANS quoted her as saying at an event in Hyderabad that adoption makes a woman a "mother who has given birth from her heart": "In the (case of) natural birth, mother and child connect through the umbilical cord but in adoption, the mother and the child are connected by this higher power, a connection that you cannot cut off. I have had the privilege of experiencing it twice. I have not missed a day of feeling the joy of motherhood," she said.
She also made clear that for her, adoption was not an “act of charity”, but a matter of celebrating motherhood. "The wisest decision I made at the age of 24 was to become a mother. It stabilised my life. People think it was a great act of charity and wonderful action, but it was self-preservation. It was me protecting myself," she added.
It is a reality that a woman becomes mother and a man becomes father when they give love to a child. By giving birth to a child a women need not become a mother. Some women give up their children after birth. They do not become mothers. What the children require most from their parents is love expressed through their care, protection, availability, appreciation, encouragement and support. A mother who genuinely loves her child need not fulfil all the desires of her child or meet all its demands. She fulfils only those demands or desires that help the growth and wellbeing of the child. Instead of rejecting outright the demands of the child, she has to take time and make the child understand why she is denying or rejecting a particular demand. When a mother or father gives their children unconditional love, they are giving a second birth, “birth from heart”.
The traditional welfare and charitable activities of many organizations, especially of the Catholic Church, have been running orphanages, boarding houses or hostels for poor children, old age homes and homes for the physically and mentally challenged. What has motivated the followers of Jesus, who initiated these welfare and charitable activities, is the compassionate love of Jesus Christ. All those who opt to work in such institutions and give their love to the inmates through selfless service, are “giving birth from their heart”. This is all the more true in the case of orphanages.
The beginning of orphanages, old age homes, and hostels for children is due to the compassionate love; but in course time they may become routine activities of a diocese or congregation. There may not be always persons with passion to work in such institutions. In many religious congregations there is no practice consulting the members whether they are interested to work in such institutions. As a result, sometimes persons who have no interest in these types of activities are forced to take up responsibilities in such welfare institutions. In such situations “giving berth from heart” does not take place.
In some religious congregations there are strict rules that a person should not be more than three or six years in an institution. I know an orphanage where the sister- in- charge of small children are transferred every three years. A baby after two or three days of its birth is brought to the orphanage and the sister-in-charge practically becomes its mother. A strong emotional bond is built between the sister and the baby. After one or two years the sister is transferred. The superiors who transfer the sister think that they are performing a great task by obeying the rules of their congregation. At the same time, they fail to understand that they are committing a crime by snatching a mother from a baby. These congregations and the superiors seem to be totally ignorant of Jesus’ teaching that laws are meant for the well being of human persons and not human beings for the law. “And he said to them Sabbath was made for man and man not Sabbath”. (Mk. 2:27) For a small child, the transfer of a mother is equal to the death of its mother. This can create a lot of psychological problems in the child, including mental retardation. Without taking into account the harm caused by the transfer to the people served by the members, many religious congregations stick on to their routine transfers. In fact, routine transfer without considering the tragic consequences is a disaster in the Catholic Church in India.
Unlike the traditional orphanages run by the Catholic Church, the SOS Children Village International has adopted a healthy approach to the care of the orphan children. It has pioneered a family approach and a long-term approach to the care of the orphan children. Each child belongs to a family headed by a mother and each family has about ten children. Girls and boys of different ages live together as brothers and sisters, similar to normal siblings, staying together as brothers and sisters within the same family. Children under the care of SOS and their SOS mothers build emotional ties that last lifetime. The commitment of a mother is generally for long period. The mothers are selected based on certain essential qualities needed for taking care of children and they are given training in child care.
Running boarding houses or hostels for the poor children is another welfare activity of the Church in India. I had the opportunity to evaluate 28 hostels run by various Protestant Churches and more than 30 hostels managed by different dioceses and religious congregations within the Catholic Church. One of the main findings of the evaluation of most of the hostels is that the children do not experience love. Nor they experience a family atmosphere in the hostels. The wardens and the care givers do not eat with the children in many hostels. The approach adopted in these hostels is mostly disciplinarian. As a result, majority of the children do not feel any sense of belonging. In a particular hostel, a boy drowned and died when the children were taking bath in a river. The enraged villagers attacked the hostel and some of the inmates of the hostel also joined with the villagers. Anti-social elements might have instigated the villagers to attack the hostel, but the inmates of the hostel joining with the attackers shows that something is radically wrong with the approach.
The hostels run by the nuns were found to be far better than the hostels run by the priests from the perspective of cleanliness, academic excellence, development of personal talents and sense of belonging in the children. The motherly care and affection make a lot of difference in the children.
What the children need more than anything else is love and that is lacking in many hostels meant for the poor. Often the children are treated as beneficiaries of charity. To become a hostel warden or care giver no specific training is required in many congregations and NGOs. Sometimes persons who are not fit for any other ministry are given the responsibility of looking after the hostel children. In the hostels run by the Protestant Churches, the care givers are employees. As their salary is poor, their motivation and commitment are very low. In the case of the hostels run by the Catholic Dioceses or religious congregations, many who are in the role of care givers have taken up the responsibility because they are appointed by the authorities. Most of them have not made an option for this ministry. Hence they are looking forward to chance to leave the hostel at the earliest. Such care givers will not be able to influence the children.
A radical change is required in the attitude and mindset of the bishops and major superiors of religious congregations towards the orphanages and other child care centres.
· Empowerment of the target groups through capacity building and holistic development should be the goal of all child care centres. The children should not be looked upon as objects of charity, but sons and daughters to be groomed.
· Before appointing the Church personnel to the child care centres, they are to be motivated to opt for this sacred mission.
· Those who have opted for the child care mission are to be given training in child care and they should be given long term appointment in a place. The main person of any child care centre should be transferred only after grooming another person to take his or her place.
· All child care centres should have very good infrastructure and other facilities. If there is no finance for providing the best facilities, the Church organizations should not start child care centres.
The child care centres run by the Church organizations should be role models in the motivation, commitment and competence of the care givers and availability of excellent infrastructure. Love and compassion should be the overriding principle that guides the care givers and the policies of the child care institutions. The care givers must be able to say like Sushmita Sen, “These are my children whom I have given birth from my heart”.
(Published on 12th August 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 33)