WOMEN AND THEIR WORK

A Franco-Canadian Orphanage

ETHEL M. CHAPMAN April 15 1920
WOMEN AND THEIR WORK

A Franco-Canadian Orphanage

ETHEL M. CHAPMAN April 15 1920

A Franco-Canadian Orphanage

WOMEN AND THEIR WORK

ETHEL M. CHAPMAN

IN an orphanage in France, one hundred and forty French children are being kept by Canadian people, mostly by Canadian women. The French Government bought the house, the Canadian Red Cross and almost every Canadian women’s organization is contributing to the upkeep. It seems a happy way of linking women’s natural, domestic sympathies with an international interest.

And right here the question may arise, “Why can’t France look after her own orphans?” In the first place, she has a million of them, and everyone knows that the war has left France poor. Three millions of her men are dead, three millions are wounded, she must rebuild her territory, and Germany says that she cannot pay her indemnity. It is not that the country does not recognize the claims of the children. When a child has a mother who can care for it, but is too poor to properly provide for it, the Government pays her three dollars a month, which, with these frugal people, is enough to make it possible for her to keep it at home. Also the Government supports homes for its orphaned boys. “The state always looks about men," said Mdlle. Guerin, the little French woman who, since the beginning of the war, has been working to relieve the suffering of the women and children—and she said it with rather an indulgent twinkle at the state’s expense. Then she went back to her work with a despatch which implied that it rested with women to look after the girls—for the Franco-Canadian orphanage is a home for girls only. That the women of Canada should be interested is only natural. They were ready to send relief to France during the War—it seemed a patriotic duty then. France needs help now as much as ever—it would be rather ungrateful to forget so soon. And that it is a good thing for Canadian women to interest themselves in the problems of the women of other nations, is clear when we remember that women are trying to learn to see public affairs broadly—not as they concern themselves or their own communities, even their own country, but as they affect the whole world.

And there may be some suggestions for us in the way France takes care of her

children. About fifteen years ago the birth-rate of France had fallen so low that the nation became alarmed. One very apparent reason for the lack of children was that many of the people were too poor to provide for children. So the Government started a rather practical system of propaganda. It granted the mother a maternity allowance until a child was a year old. Every sizable town established a

creche where the other children of the family would be kept for a month while the mother went to the hospital to have a baby. The mother herself had free hospital care and would be kept in the convalescent home for a month after the baby was born.

Realizing that the waste of life through infant mortality was abnormally high the towns also established free clinics for mothers and children with free medical advice and a free milk supply.

The plan seemed to work.

‘‘About fifteen years ago we saw our mistake,” said Mdlle. Guerin. “At the beginning of the war it was quite common to see families of six and seven.”

F This was before the war. France was then, in spite of the limited means in certain quarters, a cheerful country, with village after village of little houses and big churches and happy people. The war left these same stretches of country little more than huddles of melted houses— home after home crushed into the earth; cairns of fallen stones where there had been standing walls, splintered trunks where stately poplars had sheltered the door-yard. And when the families came creeping back to the ruins there were, of course, starving, ill-clad children to be cared for. This is why the women working for war relief had to get together and fit up some kind of orphanage.

It was not the task of ordinary times. The children who came to them were not normal. They have been starved, shellshocked, terrified by their experiences. Some had lived in cel1 a r s for weeks with the bombinggoing on over their heads, and they came out n e r -vous wrecks and nearly blind. In many cases mothers h a d t o gather their little broods about them and flee ahead of the invading army, going for days without food, and the majority of the children in the orphanage to-day are suffering the effects of the malnutrition of the early days of the war. And there were the families held in the occupied territory; the mothers and the children over nine years of age had to work in the fields, so the younger children were naturally neglected—and for various.

obvious reasons they were not happy. Individual especially sad cases occurred. There was a woman left alone with her children in a little village and, when the food supply ran out, being too proud to apply for help, she went to work in the nearest town. One day a long range gun

was levelled on the town and the woman was killed. She carried no papers giving her name, so she was taken to the morgue and it was some days before she could be identified. In the meantime neighbors heard the children crying in the house ^pd they were taken to the orphanage.

It is from tragedies like these that the orphanage gets its children. The responsibility of those in charge is not only to care for their material wants, but to try to make them happy—to give them back at least something of the childhood they have missed. That they are succeeding pretty well seems clear from the testimony of one little girl who, in a letter to her Canadian godmother, said: “Though I am still quite young, not yet six years old, I can remember when I was in the Boche house I always cry, now that I am in your house I laugh. Thanks to your kindness." They try to make the place as little like an institution and as much like a home as possible. The children are encouraged to play and not allowed to work until they are thirteen years old; after that they teach them a trade. They are not segregated in the orphanage as the children are in some of our institutions here. They go to the public schools and on a holiday, if they have any relatives, they may spend the day with them.

A Canadian woman visiting the orphanage recently wrote back to Mdlle. Guerin: “The children seemed so happy and wellcared-for—not at all like in an institution.' It was a very fine day and the larger ones were playing in the woods. I cannot imagine a nicer place for them to be, nor a happier lot of babies. The matron says they could not have carried on the work without Canadian help and they are so grateful. To-day 1 went out to the creche where they keep the little ones whose mothers are in the hospital—this is also an ideal place for them, everything spotless and beautifully kept and yet homelike.”

One more thing the orphanage must do for its children. It would be a shortsighted thing to give them a few years of protection and care and happiness only to turn them out on the world in their teens, unequipped to take care of themselves. Near the close of the year 1916, Mme. Beringiuer, whose object was to help the French working girls, asked Mdlle. Guerin to interest people in Cenada in the apprenticeship oí French orphans. So many of the girls had gone into munition factories that it was impossible to take up the work then. Anyway Mdlle. Guerin realized that the Canadian people would not understand the French system of apprenticeship, and she felt that the more important thing at the moment was to save the young children and, in view of the steady loss of lives through the war, to keep the French children in France. The better plan seemed to be to eauip a technical school in connection with the orphanage, where the girls, as soon as they were old enough, could be taught a trade— dressmaking or millinery or lingerie work, or some of the other crafts so much in demand in the country. This is the final step to completing the institution. The work room is not put in yeL For the present, it rests with the Canadian women whether it will he put in or not. The idea opens another project for any women’s organization interested.