Azra – Bosnia and Herzegovina


Azra is a happy, high-spirited little girl who lives with her mother, Alma, in a village in Bosnia and Herzegovina. “Azra loves songs, she loves you to talk to her – she needs a lot of attention!” Alma says. Alma is only 19 but she knows what it takes to be a good mother. She is warm and attentive and clearly loves her daughter very much. “Azra is beautiful, her smile is perfect!” Alma says.

But Azra’s childhood could have been very different. Her father died in a mining accident shortly before she was born. Alma was alone, with nowhere to live and no income. The only relative who could offer any support was her elderly grandmother. Alma was afraid that she might have no choice but to allow her daughter to be raised in an orphanage, without any of the love and attention that Azra so clearly thrives on today.

Orphanages do not protect children, they harm them. This is especially true for babies.  Reliable research suggests that every three months spent in an orphanage before the age of three, stunts a child’s physical and cognitive development by one month. After six months, this damage may be irreversible. To develop as they should, babies need the dedicated care and attention of a parent-figure and no institution can ever provide this.

That’s why, before Azra was born, our team in Bosnia and Herzegovina worked with Alma to give her the support and encouragement she needed to keep her baby.

We helped to arrange a place for Azra and Alma at a local Mother and Baby Unit, a service developed by Hope and Homes for Children – the National Coordinator of the Opening Doors for Europe’s Children in Bosnia and Herzegovina –  to help vulnerable mothers and babies to stay together. The staff at the Unit made sure that Alma and Azra had the help and advice they needed to make a good start in life together. Living in the Mother and Baby Unit was not easy for a teenager. Alma missed her friends but our team were impressed by the way that Alma cared for Azra. Despite the challenges, she was determined to do her best for her daughter.

Eighteen months on, and Alma and Azra are doing well. They have left the Unit and moved in with Alma’s grandmother. Life as a single mother is never easy but while she was in the Mother and Baby Unit Alma completed a diploma in hairdressing and she works part-time to help to provide for her daughter.

“Azra is my life,” Alma says. “I want to protect her and to protect her future.”


Alya – Bulgaria

Seven months into pregnancy, Alya’s then parents-to-be have realised that she would have facial anomaly after birth – cleft lip and cleft palate. „The next minute after Alya was born, and the midwives passed the baby to me, I was terrified: she was all covered in blood with a huge hole looming on her face,” recalls Alya’s Mum. “And the first words that I heard from staff were “Wow, it is a baby with the cleft palate.” Although we have been aware of our daughter’s facial deformities before birth, the lack of understanding from personnel of the hospital after her birth was the first reality slap. I was scared and anxious when I saw Alya, and I cried a lot. Nobody told me anything, there was a total lack of support,”  add’s Alya’s mother.

After being discharged from maternity hospital, without parents knowing, the girl was transferred to the Home for Medico-Social Care for Children. When the social services called her father to sign an order for accommodation, he denied. It was the doctors’ opinion that the mother could not provide appropriate care for her daughter, and that she will not be able to cope with feeding the baby which will put the girl’s life in danger. After Alya’s placement in a Home for Medico-Social Care for Children, the Center for early intervention was contacted by the project coordinator “Direction Family” with request to arrange consultation for Alya’s parents. Meeting the manager of the Center has encouraged and reassured Alya’s parents of their parental capacity to care for little Alya at home, in a supportive and caring family environment. The Centre has also offered professional support by the team of experts in the Centre.  With the help of local NGO, parents contacted Association of patients with inborn facial anomaly who work towards prevention of abandonment of children with facial anomaly and improving the quality of treatment for these children.  Alya had an operation and after successful recovery she now eats normally.

Alya’s story shows that the early intervention is essential in prevention of children’s separation from their parents. It starts with informing about the child disability and continues with psychological and emotional support to parents immediately after the birth. Understanding and acceptance of the child’s diversity, as well as supporting the notion that children should grow up with their own homes, not in children’s homes, is crucial to it.