Janice Williams is an international development expert with a decade of experience in capacity building, education, and program management in the U.S. and internationally. She has aBachelor’s degree in Political Science, a Master’s in Government and International Affairs and recently received her Masters in Technology, Innovation and Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She is the Executive Director and Founder of SUDU.

SUDU is a non for profit organization in Sierra Leone that places orphaned children ages 3-6 into loving homes with families who they train and support, whilst attending to their educational needs, physical health and socio-emotional wellbeing of the children we serve. The word SUDU means home and it is derived from the Fulani language a language spoken across various countries in Africa.

Moiyattu Banya interviewed Ms. Williams to learn more.

Tell us a bit about SUDU?

SUDU is an orphan care program based in Sierra Leone that finds foster families for orphans between 3-6 years of age. These families are properly vetted and also taken through a training before they welcome a child in their home. SUDU also provides early childhood education for these orphans in order to give them an advantage in the future. Teachers in the schools that SUDU partners up with also must go through a training to train them on how to teach in a social and emotional conscious way.

Tell us a bit about yourself and what is your personal story and what inspired you to start SUDU?

I am a born Sierra Leonean. I left Sierra Leone though years ago during the war. I was separated from my birth family and taken in initially by a family who treated me in a way that made me feel isolated and unwanted. After that experience, I was fortunate to be taken in by a family that till this day is who I primarily recognize as my main family. They raised me as their daughter and interact with me as a sister, cousin, niece etc. Since leaving Sierra Leone I have always wanted to contribute to Sierra Leone and I knew I wanted to do something focused on orphans because of what I went through. I thought perhaps opening an orphanage, but over the years working in international development and also getting more education on child development, I thought a different approach was needed. What made me grow into the woman I am now was having that loving and nurturing family. I value that more than anything else till this day and this is what I want for the children in our program

What does success look like for families who are in your program?

Success looks like seeing families in the communities we are working with fully embracing the children they take in as their own and treating them not only like their children, but treating their children even better. I say even better because through our frequent family trainings we want to improve the way families interact with their children. We want them to learn how to deal with children who have experienced trauma or might be challenging. These skills are necessary not only for those particular children, but even those already in their care. So success to us looks like a more socially conscious family and community that understand the social emotional development of a child and can nurture them fully.

What are some challenges you face in the start up phase of your organization?

SUDU wants a child to be in a home where they can get personalized care. This is hard to do in a large family size where parents are probably not home very often because they have to go out and “sell markit” (selling in the local markets in town) because they have so many mouths to feed. Even if this family wanted to be more nurturing, it is challenging due to lack of time and the stress they’re in. SUDU finds it hard to find homes for children that don’t have large families as on average there are at least 5 people living in a home in Sierra Leone and this can be even more in certain impoverished areas. It is also challenging to convince certain organizations that serve as orphanages or interim care centers that based on proven research, the best environment for children is in a home and not in institutions, many are reluctant to let go of these children. Most of these organizations, the more children they have, the more aid they get. Donations are given per child and so they are not open to working with SUDU to find foster homes. These are just some of the challenges, but overall we are excited because in terms of the openness that we’ve seen from community members, it really makes us happy because before SUDU got started many people were doubtful that people would want to take in these children. It goes to show that Sierra Leoneans are very caring and want to help more than we give them credit for.

What advise would you give to a young African woman looking to set up her own organization?

I would say take your time and try not to overwhelm yourself in the beginning. You can’t do it all immediately, you have to start somewhere. The plans for SUDU is bigger than this, but when starting SUDU we had to think about our “MVP,” which in business is the “minimum viable product,” which basically means what is the crux of what you are trying to accomplish or “sell” and what is its smallest version? What SUDU is trying to provide is a family-based care approach. That is at the center of what we do and whatever pilot or small phase we are in, at the center should be family, so when starting out you really have to understand that. You really have to know the problem you are trying to solve and the main point of why you are doing what you are doing if not then you’ll be chasing a lot of different ideas and won’t be successful.

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Submitted by Moiyattu Banya for the Women|Change|Africa Bosschiques Build Program in Collaboration with WCA Creatives & Nadia Marie &Co