In pictures: Guatemalan children's home

Date: 2007-01-01
Source: BBC

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Awaiting adoption

Behind a high brick wall topped with razor wire in Guatemala City’s affluent Zona 10 is the Asociacion Primavera children’s home.

Its three storeys house about 100 Guatemalan girls and boys, ranging in age from a few days to eight years old, almost all of whom are awaiting adoption.

About 30 carers are employed to look after them, working round the clock over two shifts, as well as a teacher and two doctors who pay daily visits.

Stimulation

Adoption lawyer Susana Luarca, a vocal supporter of Guatemalan adoptions, helped found the home back in 1999, when it was a much smaller operation.

"When you think of orphanages, you think of a dreadful place - the idea that comes to mind is of children trapped in cribs, sad and forgotten," says Ms Luarca.

"We try to stimulate them and we pay special attention to not leaving them in cribs when they are awake, to giving them proper food and proper care."

Lullabies

Inside, the sound of babies and toddlers playing and crying competes with music from children’s shows on the TV and lullabies played in the nurseries where the youngest sleep.

A picture of each child currently living at the home hangs in the lobby.

The number of adoptions from Guatemala, a small country, is such that one in a 100 Guatemalan children grows up a US citizen.

Officials estimate that there are as many as 500 privately-run homes caring for children pre-adoption.

Decorated dorms

The older children sleep in dorms, decorated with a sports motif for the boys and pink ballerinas and angels for the girls.

Some will stay at the home for a year or even two, depending on how long the adoption process takes.

"Almost all the children have families [in the process of adopting them], so we shouldn't feel bad for them. There are five boys, newborns, that still don't - because boys are harder to place than girls," says Ms Luarca.

Medical care

Not all the children are healthy when they arrive at the home and others need care for childhood ailments.

The home has a medical room where the doctors treat minor conditions and check the babies are growing as they should be.

With chronic malnutrition affecting almost half of all Guatemalan children between three months and five years old, according to Unicef, ensuring the children attain a healthy weight once they are in the home is important.

No 'stolen children'

Susana Luarca dismisses critics' claims that many birth mothers in Guatemala have been bribed or coerced into giving up their children - or worse, that babies are stolen.

"We have to do a DNA test, mother and child - if they don't match, the adoption doesn't continue. At the end of the adoption there is a second test [to check it's the same child] and if you don't get a match, the child can't leave the country.

"There is no use for a stolen child, or for a mother who is not willing."

Cultural differences

Most of the children put up for international adoption are from the indigenous community, worst-affected by poverty.

Within Guatemala, adoption - aside from informal care of orphaned or abandoned children by their own extended family - is very limited.

Observers put this down to a culture which attaches a certain stigma to adoption, plus a continued racial prejudice on the part of the ladino community, which is of mixed European and indigenous descent, towards the indigenous people.

Colourful laundry

The day-to-day operation of the home involves large amounts of cooking, food shopping, cleaning and washing.

Lines of colourful laundry flutter on a terrace on the top floor, from where the tree-covered hills that surround the city can be seen.

In the kitchen, the staff prepare meals involving anything from pureed fresh vegetables and fruit to pancakes, pasta and beans.

The storeroom shelves are stacked high with provisions and different types of baby formula.

'Small profits'

Susana Luarca dismisses critics' claims that adoption lawyers and children’s homes make big profits.

"The adoptive parents pay a small fee – but it's something like 70 cents or $1 an hour – for the care of the child. Would you find someone in your country who would be willing to feed, clothe and put a roof over a child's head for that?

"We really are working for a very low margin of benefit - it's mostly because if we don't do it, no-one else will."

Happy families

Parents who come to see their adoptive children can watch them play unobserved through a one-way glass window from the lounge.

They will also spend time bonding with the child before they finally take them home.

"It's sad to see them leave when you have a child that you get attached to," says Cristina Umana, daughter of Susana Luarca and a part-time helper at the home.

"But then you see the pictures the family sends and they look so happy, all of them - it's really worth it."

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