For Lanto Robivelo, being a Social Worker is more than a job. It’s his life’s work.
“I was interested in becoming a social worker to contribute my share of bricks to the development of my country,” says Lanto. “In my work, I like to encourage families and children. . .I can be their voice and help them find their own. My work gives me a better understanding of myself and gives meaning to this life on earth.”
Lanto is the National Director of FAMadagascar, the Martin James Foundation’s (MJF) partner organisation, which provides family strengthening services and develops foster care programmes.
Madagascar, situated off the southeast coast of Africa, is the fourth largest island globally, and it’s also one of the world’s poorest countries. More than 90% of the population live on under US$2 a day, more than half of whom are children (World Bank, 2019).
The impact of poverty has many effects on the lives of Malagasy children. For example, their access to education and health care is limited, and they are also vulnerable to sexual exploitation. UNICEF estimates that over 900,000 children in Madagascar are orphans, which they define as a child under 18 years of age who has lost one or both parents to any cause of death. So while many of those children have a living parent, they can still be placed in orphanages or forced to live on the streets (UNICEF, 2008). Globally it is estimated that 8 out of 10 children growing up in orphanages have family (Csáky 2009).
Lanto explains, “At FAM, we are convinced that poverty alone should not be the reason for placing a child outside his or her family of origin. That is why we help the child’s biological family through the challenges they face.”
FAM was founded in 2015 by a British couple, John and Cath Butlin, both of whom are educators and foster carers.
“Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in the world, and the first thing we learnt was the tragic fact that many children end up in institutional care due to poverty, with very little support for struggling families,” says Cath. “It’s like putting a plaster on a wound that needs proper stitching up.”
Wanting to use a more effective approach, FAM addresses the issues caused by poverty and related social challenges holistically. Lanto’s prior work in Child Protection, coupled with his exceptional communication, management, and leadership skills, have made him a driving force of FAM’s work. His desire to defend and protect the rights of children motivates his daily work.
“The work of FAM is crucial for our country so that children can take on their role and develop Madagascar now and in the future,” says Lanto.
FAM works with families in crisis to prevent child abandonment or placement in an orphanage. For example, during the pandemic, they helped move 21 pregnant women from a homeless shelter to safe housing in the community close to the maternity hospital. MJF funded a social work position to support this work, and the project has prevented children from being separated from their families and entering orphanages.
FAM also works closely with the Malagasy Government to help formalise in-country foster and kinship care. Recently, MJF has joined meetings with FAMadagascar, the Malagasy Government and UNICEF to support the development of a foster care handbook. A new foster care law is close to being passed by the Government, and at that point, MJF will support FAMadagascar to implement one of the first foster care pilot projects in the country.
“It makes me proud that FAM is both close to its beneficiaries and also to the decision-makers and partners,” says Lanto. “Thanks to the support of the Martin James Foundation, FAM has gained notoriety, knowledge and know-how with institutions and organisations in Madagascar.”
Lanto was quick to mention who he views as heroes in creating a world where children don’t grow up in orphanages or other institutions – foster carers. He realises the vital role they play and says humanity can’t grow and develop without their generous sacrifices and support.
He says, “Your actions today prove the greatness in you. By becoming a foster carer, you give more meaning to the existential question of humanity. Sharing love, educating children is not easy, but it can be done. Foster parents are the real heroes for the change in our society of tomorrow. Of course, the task is difficult sometimes, but we have the professionals who accompany us. They are there for us, and they are there to help us to excel even more.”
To learn more about FAMadagascar, visit: https://www.famadagascar.org/