Adult men pay to have sex with little girls and boys as young as 5 in South East Asia.
Children may work their whole lives in slavery to pay the debts of their parents.
In Burma soldiers kill entire villages, children witness, tied to a tree, as men rape and kill their mother, shoot their father in the head and if they are lucky, they escape to tell that story in a refugee camp.
There is a before and an after.
There is life before I knew these things… and there is life after where I try to understand what to do with my crushed heart and the minute by minute awareness that in the time it took me to feed my children breakfast someone else's children died of starvation, children were raped, killed, trafficked, and orphaned. How do I live with this knowledge?
What can I do?
It’s been more than a decade since I first asked that. It was exactly 10 years ago this month that my husband and I first visited an orphanage with the idea to figure out what we could do.
I admit I had a very romantic idea of what running an orphanage would involve. I would hold babies all day and love on kids who needed a mother.
|village kids mugging for the camera|
The reality was a surprise to me.
After touring the whole place, which was very well run, we sat down for a one on one chat with DJ and Lynette, the couple in charge.
“The truth is,” DJ said, “I spend most of my days fund raising, trying to raise enough money to keep this whole thing going. We hire people to take care of the kids, because we don’t have the time.”
The more we looked the more we saw that this is the sad truth about most orphanages round the world. Those who care enough to devote their lives to such work find most of their time filled up with activities that have little to do with the direct care and nurture of the children. They are constantly dependent on donor money, never knowing if there will be enough.
Needless to say, this reality was less than exciting for us. We wanted to give love and care, not become professional fundraisers.
As it is we know that orphanages are less than ideal. Staff come and go, children get attached to people only to have them leave after their 6 month volunteer stint is over and break their heart. With such a high ratio of children to adults it’s hard to make sure that kids get nurture, and that their emotional needs are met. It’s even harder when the people with them every day are paid staff workers.
But orphanages are necessary. Without them children would be in even worse condition, wandering the streets, prostituted, enslaved, and ultimately, dead far too soon. Many children in orphanages will never be candidates for international adoption due to the laws in their countries and their lack of even a birth certificate or legal guardianship process to prove that they are indeed orphans.
Three years ago my husband met a man in Northern Thailand who was taking care of 40 kids that he found in the jungle near the Burmese border, kids who had no one who could take care of them, whose parents were dead or “disappeared” due to the political and economic situation created by the Burmese Junta.
|For a while the Charis Home staff netted pigeons for extra meat|
He was making the little bit of rice he had into soup to try and feed all of them. He had no support system, but he knew that if he left those children to themselves they would be worse off than nearly starving with him.
That was the day we became professional fundraisers, in spite of our aversion. Because when it comes down to it, money is needed, and if it can go to the people who truly love and care for these kids then we will do what we can to raise it. (The Charis Project has kept those children, plus many more, fed, clothed, safe, in school, and in the care of someone who really loves them ever since.)
But then we had an idea.
What if we could make it so that the orphanage didn’t need to rely on donations anymore?
If they could just grow enough food to feed themselves and the kids, their situation would be much more stable.
|kids preparing pigeons to eat|
What if the children learned how to start and run a small business? What if they gained the life skills and tools that would serve them all of their lives?
What if we could figure out a way to teach anyone already taking care of orphans, from 1 or 2 to 20, how to do this?
Are you catching the idea?
Here, I’ll lay it out for you.
We want to create an orphanage model that not only supports itself but also supports and transforms it’s surrounding community through employment and social benefit through the businesses it runs.
Can an orphanage change a community for the better? Can it be the source of economic and social change? Could this change be enough to dry up the community as a source for child traffickers who prey upon poverty and despair? We think so.
Our vision is to take the throw away children of the world, and have the stability to love them and the educational structures that train them to be the leaders that create tomorrow’s economy. The very social business structures that provide stability for the kids also provide them an education and the means to long-term stability for themselves. Fund raising, which is a hand to mouth existence, becomes part of the life of the home whether we like it or not. It can cause lifelong dependence and helplessness in the children.
With our model, instead of spending energy and time going out and fund raising, we’re harnessing the means of fulfilling the economic requirements for the home as something that is intrinsically valuable to the children. The business structures turn the achievement of financial stability into something that is of great long-term value to the children as well.
Wouldn’t that be cool?
It’s a pretty big idea I know, maybe even big enough for Idea Camp?
***I so wish one of us could go to Idea Camp but it's an economic impossibility for us at this point. I can however join in the online discussion which is what this post is about.