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Nsukka has a Motherless Babies Home run by the National Council of Women Societies. In 1986 a group of women and children began visiting the home as part of the vacation activity Caring for Others. The women saw this as a way of encouraging children to reach out and empathize with less fortunate children. What they found led to an enduring activity and the larger Motherless Babies Project.

The first visit was an unforgettable experience. The babies lay listless in their cots, many of them facing the wall. Although some were as old as two years, they did not walk and they did not talk. Nor did they smile. They just lay there. Some of them cried and pulled away when the women and children tried to pick them up. However, once they got used to being held, they did not want to let go; they cried and resisted when the children tried to put them down. The women noted that while the babies’ basic physical needs were being met, the overworked staff of the Home did not give much individual attention.

The observed need led to the Motherless Babies Project. As part of the Caring for Others activity, children go to the Home, where they change and feed the babies, and more important, hold and play with them, sing and talk to them. Each child adopts one baby for special attention. They bring gifts of clothes, food, and toys, and celebrate Christmas and Independence Day with them. But they have discovered that individual attention and love are the babies’ greatest needs.

To supplement the staff, the Children’s Centre made a special appeal for funds and employed two caretakers with specific responsibility for direct care of the babies from 1988 to 1994. Regular supplies of milk, eggs, crayfish and fruit were given to supplement the babies’ food. The Project also has provided basic equipment such as mattresses and beddings and lobbied for provision of other amenities.

Once babies are walking well, they are discharged and return to their fathers or other family members. Problems soon after discharge led the women to embark on follow-up visits to monitor the babies’ progress during the transitional period from institutional to home care. The Project also linked up with the Social Work students of the Department of Sociology/Anthropology, who visited the Home and carried out follow-up visits to discharged babies as part of their fieldwork experience.

Visits to the Motherless Babies Home remain a regular Children’s Centre activity and still help meet the needs of both the babies and the children.

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