A Greek family opens their home and heart to 8-year-old S. from Afghanistan. What does it mean for these parents to hear the words “mom” and “dad”, from a small refugee child, apart from their biological child?
Ms Maroutsou talks to in.gr about the family’s experience of fostering an unaccompanied child: “We loved her from the first moment we saw her.”
Read the full article in Greek, here.
English translation follows:
Open arms for an unaccompanied child refugee
8-year old S. has started to say ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad’ again
By Alexandra Tanka
January 11, 2022
A family, who already has a 9-year-old biological child, has in 2021 fostered a small unaccompanied child refugee.
In March 2020, Greece recorded the highest number ever of unaccompanied refugee minors. In total, the horrors of war have taken 5,424 children from their parents’ arms and led them to seek refuge in Greece.
However, Greek families have offered to open their own arms and transform the nightmares of these children into dreams for the future.
One of these is the family of Ms. Maroutsou and Mr. Valasopoulos, who now hear the words ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad’ on the lips of 8-year-old S. from Afghanistan.
The family, who already has a 9-year-old biological child, has in 2021 fostered a small unaccompanied child refugee.
As Ms. Maroutsou told in.gr, they became concerned with the situation of unaccompanied minors since the first waves of refugees arriving in Greece.
“When, a year and a half ago, we found ourselves in a group where a woman announced she had made an application to foster an unaccompanied minor, I immediately felt it was something we also would like to do. This was how it started,” she describes.
The family addressed themselves to METAdrasi, and there followed a period of preparation with a social worker and a psychologist. After 9 months they were told of a little girl who was close in age to their daughter and they asked to meet her.
The first ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad’
“From the beginning, S. was very friendly and cheerful. From the first day she called us ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad’, something that touched us and made us feel close to her. I imagine the child needed to feel safe, to feel she belonged to a family…”, Ms. Maroutsou says. However, the first few nights were difficult, because S. cried and asked for her mother. As she was used to sleeping in the same bed with her mother, she found it hard to sleep alone, despite the fact that she was in the same room as M., the couple’s daughter.
“When S. cried, our daughter would panic and call us. Slowly, the little girl started adapting, accepting the new reality and even enjoying it. I can say that, being with us, she has made huge leaps: she has learned to read and write, ride a bike, swim—major strides for her self-confidence.”
The first days
The family tried from the start to be tender, steady and consistent in their behaviour towards S., so that she would feel not just welcome, as a guest, but a real member of the family. “In the beginning she tended to be excessively giving and willing to help, as if she felt our feelings towards her, or even her place in the house, depended upon her good behaviour,’” Ms. Maroutsou explains. “Thankfully this excessiveness lessened after two or three weeks and soon S. felt free to be a real child, with beautiful and difficult moments; she felt safe enough to show anger towards us or competitiveness towards M., our biological daughter, and deploy her talents and virtues.”
A new child in the family
“At first, our daughter was very enthusiastic at the idea of fostering,” Ms. Maroutsou explains. “She told us she had always wanted a little sister and she was not put off even when the social worker tried to prepare her for possible difficulties of such an experience. Of course, when we went to meet S., we asked her if she still wanted us to foster her and she said yes.”
As Ms. Maroutsou describes the first days, her daughter, M., made huge efforts also to be ‘good’ with S.: “She was the one to tell her to call us what she liked, giving her the freedom so to speak to share her names for us, ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad’. But after a few days she came to me crying and asking me to ‘take her back!’”
“I explained to her that we had promised to offer a roof, food and care to S. for a period of time. The fact that we would foster her for a while only calmed her down, but she declared that after that period S. would have to go. Naturally, since then, so much water has gone under the bridge in their relation and they have become so close that now M. keeps asking us what we can do to keep S. forever…”
Since the social worker had told them that most unaccompanied minors are boys and thus it was possible that their wish to foster a girl would not be fulfilled, they had not announced their decision but to a very few friends. Their extended family only found out when S. finally arrived. Ms. Maroutsou and Mr. Valasopoulos had had M. at an advanced age and unfortunately both her grandfathers are no longer alive. “Although I am certain both would have welcomed S.,” Ms. Maroutsou says. “My husband’s mother did meet her and became very fond of her since she was herself a child of migrants from Smyrna. Sadly, we lost her, too, a few months later. S. cried at the funeral as if it had been her own grandmother. The biggest—perhaps the only—difficulty we had to face was with my own mother, who is in the first stages of dementia, which in her case results in moody and unpredictable behaviour: sometimes she is very sweet with S., at other times she can be aggressive, perhaps because subconsciously she fears that she can ‘steal’ love from her favourite granddaughter, M. It is worth noting that M. always sticks up for her foster sister when she feels she is being unfairly treated by her grandmother, even when this unfairness benefits her. However, with the passing of time, even this prickly relationship is getting smoother since S. is a strong child who -perhaps due to circumstance – is very mature for her age and has learnt to show compassion and claim her share of love.”
The family has had help from METAdrasi who, via the social worker, child psychologist and a psychologist for the couple, are following the situation closely and are there to offer help and support as needed.
Ms. Maroutsou, though, is sure of one thing, which she says with conviction: “We loved her from the first moment we saw her.”
METAdrasi’s activity “Foster Care for Unaccompanied Minors”, was initiated with funding by EEA Grants, through Bodossaki Foundation and since August 2016 is supported by UNHCR, with co-funding by the European Commission.