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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.”