Someone you can always turn to

31/10/2012 - "My sisters were a constant reminder that I have a family. Because of them I didn't feel like I was alone in the world." This is just one quotation taken from the interview below. Mariela from Bulgaria, Sarbita from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Belay from Ethiopia and Teona from Georgia share their experiences about the importance of sibling relationships, particularly for children living in alternative care.

How important was the relation to your brother(s)/sister(s) while you were living in care?

Sarbita: The relation to my sisters was very important for me because my sisters are the biggest support for me, people who are always there for me. Because of my sisters I didn't feel like I was alone in the world.

Teona: In my opinion, relations with sisters and brothers are very important. When parents have passed away, a child has only a sister or a brother. Knowing that you have even one relative is significant when you live in care. Children and young people in care always have the feeling that the things they have aren’t theirs (e.g. bed, table, house, etc.). I think everybody needs to say 'mine' because it’s identification with oneself. Besides, you always know that the children you live with aren’t your biological sisters or brothers, and children might have a feeling of loneliness… and living in care without anything or anybody is just awful. Sometimes there are cases when siblings do not have good relations because of psychological issues from their family background. For example, I did not have a good relationship with my younger sister who I lived with in care. We were always fighting and sometimes I hated her when I was a child. But I have two elder sisters, and today I have a better relationship with my younger sister than with the elder sisters. We grew up together and spent more time together, even in fights. Today we laugh a lot when we remember what we were fighting about.

Mariela: I’m not sure if I realized it back then because we were kids. But we realized it when we went in the youth programme. There we appreciated our connection and we supported each other.

Belay: I think I am speaking for many of us when I say within care, the ones living in the same house were brothers/sisters and the ones living in other houses were mostly friends. Living in care taught me to believe and accept that the brothers and sisters I had around me were nothing less than a biological brother or sister. We had each other’s backs in terms of understanding and building up confidence as we felt we were not alone. Eventually in the outside world I learned to appreciate and acknowledge the benefit of being around the brothers and sisters from the village. Even though it did take me a long time before I could differentiate between true people and false people who take advantage of you, I was not deterred from treating the people around me as if they were my true brothers and sisters.

In which situations were your brother(s)/sister(s) particularly important?

Mariela: We all know that as young people there were things we couldn’t share with our mother or the educators. This is the time when you see how important it is to have good relationships with your brothers and sisters. You see that you can count on them for advice, help, etc.

Sarbita: My sisters were important in every part of my life. When my mum died I came to the SOS Children’s Village, and because of my sisters I didn't feel lonely. They were a constant reminder that I have a family.

Belay: My brothers/sisters were particularly important in terms of being there for each other, exchanging advice, being a study buddy or a sport mate. Or most generally: re-defining the meaning of love through friendship and company as any family would do. It never crossed my mind that I was an 'orphan' or someone who didn’t have anyone to love him. The brothers and sisters gave the entire village the sense of being part of a huge collection of 'one family'.

Teona: For my younger sister it was important to have a sister who would protect her in front of others, who would say 'Hey guys, this is my sister and if you hurt her I’ll be there and you’ll get yours.' This is Georgian culture. Sometimes when you are older, you are responsible for a lot of things. You lose your childhood and you grow up so independently that you can’t understand why your peers ask their mothers where to go or not to go. For example, I’ve heard my classmates at university saying: 'How can I tell my mom that I got a low score on the exam?' It was a great surprise when I first heard that, but today I know that it’s just a cultural feature when children or young people depend on their parents. It’s hard to live as an independent person after such dependence.

What helped and what challenged your relationship with your brother(s)/sister(s)?

Sarbita: There isn't a big age difference between me and my sisters, and that helped a lot in our relationship. We understand each other and we are the biggest support to each other.

Belay: The things that helped in the relationship were the continuous advice we got from our SOS mothers, the administration and most importantly from the older children who grew up in the same village and who are either integrated into the community or who are at the youth houses. These particulars continuously make us aware that we are not alone in any given circumstance as we have each other in numbers. They make us aware of the fact that it is actually more than a privilege to be associated with a group of people who are brought together in the name of love. Our elders also remind us about how tough things can be. Therefore we try and buckle up for whatever is to come. Recently I have noticed the relationship has become less close as the sense of family has suddenly turned into an atmosphere of survival. I think because the system is slowly and gradually becoming strict and tighter, the children have the feeling of 'every man for himself' rather than supporting and being there for each other. I am not against the idea of things being strict as one parent would be towards their children. But the strictness has become more of a threat and a reminder of how unstable the child’s life is; hence the children become more selfish and self-centred as it eventually leads to forgetting and not applying the relationship needed between them.

Teona: I remember that I always had the feeling that I couldn’t protect my sister from 'others'.
Because of our fights we were separated from living in the same room, and when my biological mom wanted to take us on holiday to her place we were only allowed to go separately. I wasn’t thinking about that when I lived in care, but when we both started to live together with my mom and my sisters, we started thinking that it would have been better if we went together, because we would know how to build relations with our relatives, etc.
What helped us in the relationship was just love in spite of our fights.

How has your relationship with your brother(s)/sister(s) developed over the years?

Mariela: Some of my sisters and brothers went to work in different cities but we still keep in touch. Some people may say that you can depend on your friends but that family is family and it is good to know that there are people you can turn to any time you want.

Sarbita: Over the years the relationship with my sisters became stronger. Our SOS mother taught us that we must always take care of each other, and that the relationship with sisters and brothers is the most important.

Belay: Because of the atmosphere described above, there are many of our brothers and sisters who have moved further away from each other and have chosen to live their life on their own. These children are mostly those who have either found their biological family members elsewhere or those who receive support from other relatives. I have fewer and fewer people keeping in touch and continuing with the relationship we had previously. But I have managed to convince those I thought have got it all wrong in choosing to isolate themselves by reminding them of the benefit in getting back to the good old days and keeping in touch and trying to strengthen the relationship.

Teona: Today my younger sister is married, she has a little sweet baby and she lives abroad. I miss her so much. We have a great relationship even if we disagree about some things. Regarding my elder sisters, who didn’t live with us in care, we do love each other, we do help each other, but I’m not as close to them as I am with my younger sister. My younger sister and I have grown up with different norms than my elder sisters and that’s the difference between our relationships.