Bare, grey walls tinged with a hint of yellow inside this familiar Moroccan orphanage. Crib after crib lined up next to one another with no spaces in between. Toddlers, laying silently on their faded green polka-dot sheets, likely funded by a charitable relief program. One child, perhaps walking now, is sprawled face-down with his mini-fleeced blue jacket, sleeping peacefully, his back rising and falling with each deep breath. Two other wide-eyed boys stand on wobbly legs and peek out of their cribs.
The room with the smaller babies is blue. Metal bassinets line the walls; some sit empty but most hold chubby, bundled up babies. In another room, three rows of bunk beds extend down the length of the room. To accommodate as many beds as possible, the bed frames hold the narrowest mattresses I’ve ever seen. Rows of eerily silent babies lay on them.
I sponsored an orphan once. I paid $20 a month. Now we donate our yearly zakat to one of these orphanages. The children are sometimes well-fed and dressed in the appropriate layers thanks to efforts of institutions like Islamic Relief. Still, the photographs and images of the orphanage our team visits on a yearly basis haunt me, and I can’t exorcise them from my mind because I know these kids need more.
I know because I have a baby of my own. A baby whose brown eyes light up when I walk into her nursery every morning, and whose face breaks into a wide, contagious grin. Who raises her chubby arms expectantly in a plea to be held. Who flails her little legs in excitement when I place her on the changing table. I feel as though my love for her will outstrip the limits of my body.
Doesn’t every baby deserve this?
When my baby was in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) for the first few weeks of her life, and I was too ill to visit her, I worried that she wasn’t getting the human touch she needed. Hospital staff placed a fluffy hand-shaped bean bag on her so the pressure would give her a feeling of coziness and love. That assuaged my anxiety but didn’t rinse it away entirely because I knew how important it was for a newborn’s development to feel the warmth of an affectionate human hand and the reassuring drum of a heartbeat.
Could the woman working at the orphanage cradle a baby long enough to make the child feel cozy and loved? Not likely. After all, she had thirty soiled diapers to change and twelve more babies to bottle feed before her shift ended. Cleaning and feeding understandably takes priority over cuddling.
Advocating for Muslim orphans often means opening up an orphanage. But another orphanage? Another thirty-something metal cribs in an austere room where babies lay silent and unmoving because most never learned to cry to communicate their needs, a behavior that is learned when a child makes a personal connection with one or more primary caretakers.
Can we take the next step and place these Muslim orphans into real homes? Permanent homes? With healthy, constant relationships? Loving guardians? Appropriate stimulations? Regular doctor checkups?
While sending money from afar to an orphanage is admirable, we need to do more. New Star Kafala is the only Muslim American adoption agency whose mission centers around convincing Muslim governments to allow it to place children from their orphanages into Muslim American homes.
Homes like that of the high-powered management consultant who adopted two children from Pakistan.Or like the home of the young couple who were so awe-struck when they visited that orphanage, that they began the process to adopt the adorable 7-year old child, with the brown curly hair.
This agency is changing the norm by advocating for Muslim orphans in a way charities have not done in the past. It argues that safe, quality orphanages are good but not enough. It demands loving, permanent homes for these children.
Photo Credit: New Star Kafala