Maria Omari is a 17-year-old Form 4 (Class 12) student at Fountain of Hope Secondary School. Maria came in as a 3-year-old girl in 2007 along with her one-year-old little brother, Tarzan. She was admitted to the Fountain of Zoe program for orphaned and abandoned babies along with her little brother. She has been with New Life Foundation ever since.
Here is her story...
As with most children raised with abusive parents, Maria would and his little brother would hide in their bedroom when their parents got into one of their usual brawls. She would hear slaps, noise, and all kinds of slanderous words as their parents argued and fought each other. Sometimes it would get so physical and loud that neighbors intervened. At least once, the neighbors had to resort to a village chairperson or a nearby local elder to try to resolve their parent’s argument.
Fights, arguments, and fear compose almost her entire childhood memory of living with her parents.
The situation at home got so bad that Maria’s mother took off, leaving behind 4-year-old Maria, and her one-half-year-old son. Suddenly, Maria found herself the woman of the house at just the tender age of 4 years.
Her father would leave the house in the morning and won't be back till the end of the day usually heavily drunk. Maria would wake up in the morning to find her father passed out on the sitting room floor. She and her little brother were forced to skip afternoon meals as her father didn't provide much. Occasionally, the neighbors would offer them lunch and evening meals.
“Life was very difficult,” Maria said. “My brother and I were usually hungry because Dad wasn’t always home. We had to skip my meals from time to time because there wasn’t anyone around to make food for us”.
One day Maria woke up in the morning but didn’t find any sign of her father in the house. Having assumed that her father had gone off to work early, Maria went on her usual routine of scavenging the house for anything to eat that her father might have left for her and her little brother. But she couldn’t find anything – save for a little leftover food from the previous night.
By mid-day, she was already starving and decided to get out of the house to try to get something to eat for herself and her little brother. But when she tried the front door that opened to the outside, it was locked. She couldn’t find the key anywhere in the house and after a few more failed attempts at opening the door failed, she decided to wait for her father’s return later that day. She waited and waited, counting the hours but her father didn’t show up. The sun went down, and darkness crept in, but her father was nowhere to be seen. When it got even darker and darker around the house, and her father wasn’t home yet, Maria began to feel scared and anxious. Little Tarzan had fallen asleep on her laps, having not eaten anything since morning.
She isn’t sure how long she stayed up that night. But when she woke that morning, she didn't find her father, and the front door was still locked. They had slept on the floor that night, right by the front door hoping for the return of their father.
The following day was the same – but only worse.
“I am not sure how long we were locked inside that house ... it felt like days,” Maria recounted.
It is understood that neighbors eventually broke down the door when they finally got suspicious about the fate of the children. Maria and her little brother – who couldn’t have been older than 2 years – were at the point of starvation when the neighbors saved them.
Having recovered at the hands of good samaritans, Maria and her little brother were eventually surrendered to a police station, when efforts to locate her parents had failed. The little children were in turn handed over to Child Services. After a few weeks, Child Services reached out to Fountain of Zoe, an orphanage under New Life Foundation. So in 2007, Maria, then 4 or 5 years old, and her little brother Tarzan (about 2 years old) were taken into Fountain of Zoe program.
“I am not sure how long we were left locked in that house ... it felt like days,” Maria recounted.
It is understood that neighbors eventually broke down the door, as they got suspicious about the fate of the children. Maria and her little brother – who couldn’t have been older than 2 years – were at the point of starvation when the neighbors saved them.
Having been fed and had a change of clothes, Maria and her little brother were taken to a police station, as the neighbors couldn’t locate their father. The police station, in turn, handed them out to Child Services when they themselves couldn’t locate their parents. Several weeks later, Child Services reached out to Fountain of Zoe, an orphanage under New Life Foundation. So in 2007, Maria, then 4 years old, and her little brother Tarzan (about 2 years old) were taken into Fountain of Zoe program.
“Life at Fountain of Zoe was very good”. Maria said of their time at Fountain of Zoe. “It was strange at first because both my parents were Muslim and I was raised as such. I didn’t know how to pray or sing or anything like that ... I would just watch how other kids prayed and sang, and I would do the same”.
Maria and her little brother progressively settled into the program and began making friends with other children at the program.
“The caretakers at Fountain of Zoe were very good. They treated us with such love and care like we’ve never experienced before. We were happy once again, playing and singing with other children at the program. We had abundant food and they gave us new clothes”.
“Fountain of Zoe really lives up to its name!” – Maria
Fountain of Zoe orphanage (around 2007)
Fountain of Zoe signboard
Maria will graduate Form 4 October this year.