Interview of Ruth Cox, Director of Sheltering Wings Orphanage, Yako, Burkina Faso, 2007
Lara: Where do the children come to the orphanage from?
Ruth: Kids come to the orphanage when someone drops them outside the gates of Sheltering Wings during the night or when a member of the extended family or neighbor brings a kid to me and requests that I take him/her in. Often, kids come to the orphanage through “Social Action” a government body in Burkina Faso, which is charged with the welfare of orphans and other needy people. “Social Action” picks up abandoned kids from the streets and brings them to me.

Lara: In Burkina Faso, what is the main cause of kids being orphaned?
Ruth: In order to officially be an orphan in Burkina Faso, a child must have lost at least one parent. Sometimes, the mother dies and there is no breast milk for the child. Given that formula milk is expensive and unaffordable for most families, some families send their child to the orphanage, but sometimes reintegrate their child back into their lives when he/she can eat solid food. In several instances, however, both parents have died due to a disease or an accident and the extended family is too poor to look after the child. HIV/AIDS is common in some areas. Fortunately, none of the children at Sheltering Wings have tested positive for this disease.

Lara: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Ruth: Being able to make children with little opportunity happy and keep them healthy feels rewarding to me.

Lara: What is the hardest part of your job?
Ruth: Seeing children die, sometimes even in my own arms, is devastating. It is heart-breaking when despite doing everything in one’s power, a child does not make it. Also it is hard to see children struggling in school. For some kids, making the adjustments from their previous home into the orphanage is difficult and it pains me to watch them struggle. We try to give them a better foundation through additional tutoring and, of course, lots of affection and care.
From right to left:
Ruth Cox, Lara Mitra, and Cleo Abram