It was very difficult, traveling in different trucks and different cars. We got to one town and we’d have to move on to the next because there had been a shooting or looting. All the other children were with us too. 7 months pregnant, 7 young children, it was so hard. It wasn’t safe, it was so hot. There wasn’t enough food. Anything could’ve happened. I was so scared for the children and the baby in my tummy. I was dying for water one day; my husband pleaded with someone to give some water for me. They said “ok but two sips only!”
I couldn’t climb up and down the trucks all the time, I remember all the children cheered “well done Hooyo (mum)!”, every time I climbed up or down. If I would’ve had the birth in the bushes, anything could’ve happened, I was so scared that there wasn’t any medical help. In the end, that birth was actually the easiest. I think, because of all the difficulties going on with the civil war, Allah wanted to help me with an easier birth!
When I moved to Manchester and got settled, the kids got older, and I felt more comfortable. One of my friends there had mental issues, and the children had to be taken into care with Jamaican foster parents. One day, one of the children ran to my house and locked herself in the bathroom, crying and shouting “I want to stay here, don’t make me go back to that house!”, because she knew me as her ‘Aunty’. She didn’t know these foster parents.
It was at that point I thought I should try fostering myself, I know I can’t do very much but I wanted to make a difference to one child. Islam teaches that if you change the life of one human being, then you change the world, that’s what I believe. I was the first Somali foster carer in Manchester. Since then, I’ve fostered 22 children.
I want to encourage Somali families, if they have the patience and the time, to be foster carers. Children have the right to learn about their own identity; although that Jamaican mum was black, we don’t share the same culture. We don’t eat the same food, we don’t have the same faith. It’s not being racist, there simply aren’t enough Somali foster carers, perhaps because of social services! No one wants social services in their life.
Back home in Somalia we do fostering but with a different name, the only difference is paperwork. My dad was the eldest of his family, and he took one of his brother’s children to look after him. So we know about fostering, just without the paperwork.
The most difficult thing for children to deal with is the loss of their birth family. Still in their mind, they know they don’t belong with us. Nothing can replace a child’s real parents. Sometimes it’s best for them to return to their real mum, if possible. I can feed them, care for them, but I can’t be their real mum.
What does motherhood mean to you? These tales and portraits were collected by two Faith Fellows working with Proshanti, a charity set up in response to the need for health facilities for mothers and families in Bangladesh.
Originally exhibited at the V&A Museum of Childhood in London as a pop-up 'Museum of Motherhood' (no link to the wonderful M.O.M. in New York) we're delighted to be sharing these diverse stories as part of our travelling exhibition: Story of Mum: mums making an exhibition of ourselves.
To find out more about Proshanti's work or donate, visit www.Proshanti.org.