x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

'She is one of us,' says Emirati foster mum

Reem joined her new family as an infant in 2011 and is very much a part of them now, says her Emirati foster mother.

AL AIN // Iman Al Marzouqi does not know where Reem came from. All she knows is that the curly-haired girl, now 19 months old, is part of her family.

"She is one of us," said Ms Al Marzouqi, an Abu Dhabi foster mother. Her four other children have embraced Reem, who joined the family in 2011 as an infant.

"She is their sister," Ms Al Marzouqi said. "They spoil her, actually. If I say no, they would give her behind my back whatever she wants."

Reem is one of 59 children from Dar Zayed for Family Care who have found a long-term home with an Emirati family.

The Al Ain orphanage began its fostering programme in 2007. While Sharia prohibits adoption in the western sense of the word, it is considered highly pious to foster an abandoned child.

Dar Zayed searches for families who will care for the children "forever", said social worker Maysoun Abdullah.

"Everyone who is capable should do it," said Ms Al Marzouqi. "Not only if they don't have children - also if they have children. Why deny the right of having a family and a whole society accepting these kids?"

Staff use psychological tests, interviews and home visits to assess potential families, said Khawla Al Badi, head of the Dar Zayed fostering department. Foster parents must be UAE citizens, in good health and over the age of 25, she said.

They can be from any emirate, and Dar Zayed children are scattered throughout the country.

At a Dar Zayed gathering on Wednesday, Ms Al Marzouqi watched Reem toddle around the sand with other children. "It just hurts my heart when I see families saying, 'oh well, I don't think my husband will accept [a foster child], I don't think my family would accept'," she said. "Why wouldn't they accept it? If everybody does it, it would be a normality."

Dar Zayed staff continue to check on the children as they grow up.

"They actually come visit us every few months, a very friendly visit," Ms Al Marzouqi said. "They sit with us and the kids. It's a good time. They're very sweet, and they are part of the family."

Ms Al Marzouqi knows "nothing at all" of Reem's past or how she came to be at Dar Zayed, she said.

"Do I want to know? I don't think so," she said. "Would she want to know when she grows up? I don't know. But I will have to be honest with her."

For now, Reem is too young to understand. But Ms Al Marzouqi tries to prepare her emotionally, telling her an invented story about a beautiful little girl named Lala.

"She has no mummy, she has no daddy," she said. "But there is a mummy and daddy who were crying all night to have a baby, and they found Lala. So Lala now is their baby, and they are her mummy and daddy."

Ms Al Marzouqi added: "She keeps asking about Lala."

She urges other Emiratis to consider fostering.

"I see lots of my friends who are now in older ages, not married, and they have the resources and they have the time," she said.

"So why not have a kid, you know? Have a purpose in life. It's something that everybody should do."

vnereim@thenational.ae