Authored by Jacques Sadie, Nicaragua Country Director.
Lately, our World Orphans staff have been re-studying together the book, When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor . . . and Yourself by Steve Corbett. It is really a book about poverty alleviation, yet many of the principles of “helping without hurting” apply to the field of orphan care.
You might argue, “How could helping orphans or vulnerable children be hurtful or cause harm?” Well, we have learned over the last number of years that institutionalized orphan care (that is, having 300 kids together in a large orphanage) is not the best way to care for orphans – not on a physical, mental, emotional or spiritual level. It is much better to help families stay together, because God designed families to be that loving and nurturing environment where children can reach their full potential. This is, of course, easier said than done. All over the world we still find people and churches that want to build orphanages as a way to care for orphans, because it’s the only model they know, it’s been around for a long time, and, therefore, it’s the “easiest” way.
When Helping Hurts advocates for doing ministry in a very careful and patient way. I totally agree with this, yet I believe we can take this too far, being so careful that we end up doing nothing. I will never advocate for institutionalized orphan care, but I also cannot advocate for doing nothing. (We struggle with the tension of caring for orphans in an intentional, careful way with a long-term view, yet knowing there are children who need care now). Over the last number of years, World Orphans has worked towards alternative ways of caring for orphans and vulnerable children. These have been different in different countries, and are all aimed at keeping families together. In Haiti and Ethiopia, the response is in the form of Home-Based Care, and in Nicaragua, child development centers have been the most appropriate response.
This has been a learning experience for everyone involved. And a learning experience always includes hardships and mistakes. These alternative ways of caring for orphans are not perfect, yet they have a clear goal of keeping children in families, and we have seen some great results in the lives of numerous children. With 153,000,000 orphans in the world and a clear Biblical mandate to care for them, we cannot do nothing. The answers are not simple, and the work is not easy. But “the Kingdom of Heaven is near” (Matt 3:2), and I believe it is a work in progress.