At World Orphans, we talk a lot about orphan care, but you may have noticed that we don't talk about orphanages. Instead, you may frequently hear the words "church partnership" or "family-based care".
Nothing seemed to bring about more rage in her than finding him with a newspaper; she’d rush at him in fury and snatch it from his hands. She used to be so tenderhearted–one of warmest people he’d ever met. She had welcomed him into her home and instructed him in his early reading lessons, but had become a stone–convinced by her husband’s warning against his learning.
“He should know nothing but to obey,” he reprimanded the boy and his wife, “and to do as he is told to do.” Anything more than that would make him unfit for them, and there would be no keeping him; for learning would make him immediately unmanageable, rebellious–even dangerous. Plus, he would grow terribly unhappy–a nuisance with which no one needed to be bothered.
The very decided manner in which the man spoke convinced the boy that he could rely confidently on the results of his learning. Whatever was kept hidden in books was to be sought because it would make him unfit to keep–the outcome the man most dreaded and the boy most desired. He was shown the door, the gateway to freedom from beneath the man’s tyranny. However trying the challenge, he decided to learn to read and write. His very life depended on it.
On his errands, he’d sneak a book and take a piece of bread along with him. He’d finish quickly, just in time to exchange a lesson for bread from one of the street boys who could read. With chalk, he’d scratch letters onto brick walls and pavement and copy the words from a spelling book until they looked just right.
It wasn’t long after he’d learned to read that the discontentment forecasted through his learning rushed over him. His bondage now had words, yet no remedy. He was tormented by the ache for freedom, yet all the more determined to have it one day.
At sixteen, he met two men who wanted to read and write, but like him, they weren’t permitted. He devoted himself to teaching them in secret. Friends got word of it, and in time, over forty people began to sneak weekly into their makeshift school, hoping with all their hearts to learn to read. The great light shed on their mental darkness was–to them–well worth a wretched beating should they be caught.
Decades later, this boy became one of the most prolific writers, orators, and intellectuals of his day, advising presidents and lecturing thousands both at home and as a diplomat. It was he who held the highest appointed public post in Washington. It was he who became the first African American citizen nominated for Vice Presidency. And it was he who was the most prominent abolitionist and civil rights advocate in American history.
His name was Frederick Douglass. And he was a runaway slave.
Out of all his accomplishments and positions, he recalled the humble days teaching fellow slaves in a makeshift school as the sweetest engagement to which his whole life was blessed; for it was his greatest privilege to make them fit to forge difficult passes into free states, as the illiterate and unlearned were left vulnerable and more susceptible to capture and torture. Likewise, his own education was the means to his own freedom–and later, the freedom of 3 million enslaved people through his paramount role in Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.
Douglass understood that the unlearned mind was an injustice that begot injustice. “It’s easier to build strong children,” he noted, “than to repair broken men.” And, indeed, he is evidence of this–that education can shift an impossible current, free people, and change an entire nation.
It makes me stop and think. With the millions of people displaced and enslaved today by war, are we–as a well-intentioned international community–so attuned to meeting immediate needs with measurable results that we are blind to what might come in the next century?
Are we blind to the obvious repercussions of millions of children growing up without so much as a primary and secondary education? Are we blind to the power of education in shifting an impossible current, freeing people, and changing the future of nations? Education during displacement is not a new concern, but it is certainly an increasingly relevant one, as the world faces mass exoduses of people in recent years unlike any other time in history.
At the end of 2015, the U.N’s refugee agency reported that the number of displaced people, asylum-seekers, and those uprooted within their own country totaled 65.3 million people globally–one out of every 113 people on earth, compared to 59.5 million people only one year prior. “It is the first time in the organization’s history that the threshold of 60 million has been crossed”–reaching its largest figure since World War II, roughly equal to the population of the United Kingdom. (UNHCR)
And in Iraq alone 4.7 million people out of the 10 million in need of humanitarian assistance are children–1 in 3 children–numbers that are rising quickly as the conflict there continues. From within the country, 3.3 million have been displaced, and virtually half of them are children (UNICEF). And children of war are the most vulnerable to abduction, enslavement, recruitment into fighting, and sexual violence.
Education has the power to fortify young refugees for their unforeseen future in the same way it did 19th Century American slaves as they forged dangerous passes to freedom. Regular engagement with committed teachers and peer relationships provided through schooling can be a lifesaving intervention for refugees right now, while also serving to guard their futures. Without a doubt, it is a personal catastrophe to forgo education during displacement, but millions–even hundreds–going without education creates a civil catastrophe and devastation that extends well past the current decade.
Of course, schools–specifically in Iraq–are not equipped to handle the ongoing influx of students because of the strain on their already limited resources. Schools and teachers are overextended. We have to give attention and commitment to the acute and assiduous work of educating children to strengthen the backbone of a country towards self-sustainment and needed change.
Lastly, it’s worth considering who among the children uprooted by war are the next national leaders, thinkers, doctors, scientists, and great poets...the Frederick-Douglass-types. They need only a hand and means to learn and grow despite their current circumstances. Perhaps it is they who are most equipped to lead and influence us all, not in spite of their current circumstance, but because of it.
Please consider giving to The Refuge Initiative in their efforts on this front. They have built a school in Soran, Iraq to educate up to 600 IDP children from Mosul, Fallujah, and the Sinjar region in Iraq.
“Books, not bombs, are tangibly changing the course of Iraq.”
-Tim Buxton, Iraq Country Director
In late September in Estes Park, Colorado, the morning air ushers in a crispness like the first bite of a Granny Smith apple. The mountaintops become a mixture of snow that refused to melt and the year’s first dusting, while the aspens have exchanged their leaves of green for gold and orange hues that sparkle when the light shines through them. Afternoons here feel like summer but taste like winter. And when the sun sets, we are all children again, staring into a star-covered sky and considering the universe in all its vast wonder.
The numbers are daunting. Even more daunting is the realization that every single number represents a child whose life has been drastically altered by pain, loss, and heartache.
Sometimes it's the roaring expanse of the ocean or the limitless heights of the mountains; however, sometimes it's the rhythmic cracking of a few logs in the fire and the laughter of a stranger-turned-friend.
The gift of individualism has turned seductress . . .
Those that are fierce are sometimes thought to be unloving. Those that are strong are often believed to not be gentle. Those that are brave are sometimes thought to be unkind. But this–of course–is not always true.
Yeshiwork's story is the stuff of sensationalized media, yet it's all true. As a child solider, she barely survived a battle along the border of Somalia–a battle which killed 75 people. She became a child bride at ten years old and stood by his side for 55 years . . . until he left her. To this day, she doesn't know if her husband is alive or not, as he could not be located after a flood.
Yeshiwork has suffered much, yet has overcome.
She is a tall, fierce woman. She is strong. She is brave. Yet, she is also loving, gentle, and kind, as evidenced by the little boy who has so clearly stolen her heart.
Moses walks into the room, weighed down by the heavy backpack on his tiny shoulders. He looks shyly at the guests in the room, yet marches over to Yeshiwork, and climbs onto her lap to plant a kiss on her cheek. A sparkle can be seen in her otherwise serious eyes.
She prays for him, believing he will be a leader. Though she loves him, she is not given to nonsense. Yeshiwork expects him to be disciplined in his studies and to attend the after-school programs at school in addition to his regular schooling. Without her, Moses' life could have looked so different . . . if his life had come to be at all.
Yeshiwork is Moses' grandmother, and without her desperate plea for his life to be spared, Moses would have been aborted. Conceived through rape, Moses was a sign of shame. Tradition dictated that, once he was born, he would be an outcast and he would forever be reminded of the pain that brought him into the world. One week after he his birth, Moses' mother left him in Yeshiwork's care. Out of humiliation, his grandfather left.
Yeshiwork had nothing but a tiny, defenseless infant. She was a warrior for him before he was even born, and yet that was only the beginning.
Believing it was important to "give him a life," Yeshiwork has loved him like her own son. Through the World Orphans Home Based Care program, a local church has partnered with Yeshiwork, enabling her to care for him well. The church's partnership helps to ensure that Moses is being provided for physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
Home Based Care enables Moses to grow up under the loving care of the woman who fought for him. Without the local church, Yeshiwork would most likely have been forced to surrender Moses at an orphanage, unable to provide for his needs as a single elderly woman.
Orphan care, at its roots, should always be about strengthening families, both the families that have welcome orphaned children into their homes and those families whose children are vulnerable to abandonment. Through Home Based Care, families are strengthened through the local church with support, educational resources, and provisions for the child's education, food, and medical needs as is necessary. We know that children thrive when they are in families, and we seek to see those families stay together rather than be torn apart by poverty.
Yeshiwork has fiercely and selflessly loved Moses, a boy previously destined to be an outcast. It is a privilege, as the global church, to stand in her corner and celebrate Moses' precious life.
And thus, Frimose began the hard work of parenting a grief-stricken 8-year-old girl.
She walked into Sharehouse Coffee looking for a caffeinated pick-me-up, but what she found instead was purpose, community, and a vision for the future. That sounds like a pretty good cup of coffee, right? Well, it wasn’t just the coffee (although that probably helped).
It was the first time I’d ever been to the Middle East. Oddly enough, much of it felt familiar.
When words may fail, simple things like concrete pillars and plaques can speak loudly.
Sometimes a flight doesn't go quite as expected . . .
What if the average moments in a day are more profoundly sacred than we ever imagined?
"I never loved you and everything is your fault. Don't expect anyone to love you if your own mother can't."
Those were the last words out of his mother's mouth before David was launched into the foster care system. It was a couple days after his 10th birthday and, to say the least, he'd had a difficult first decade.
When new mother, Dayna Mager, poured out the broken pieces of her heart on social media, the masses responded. Her story quickly went viral. Dayna attended a worship conference, where a missionary spoke about visiting an orphanage while in Uganda. The orphanage, filled to the brim with 100 babies, was eerily silent. She was crushed when she learned that the babies are conditioned to stop crying. A small staff against 100 babies that become hungry, tired, and dirty at varying times throughout the day is a tough scenario.
Dayna relays the missionary's story, "They stop crying when they realize no one is coming for them."
Dayna continues by sharing about the change in her maternal perspective, no longer frustrated or inconvenienced by the sound of her newborn baby's cry, but thankful for that cry. That cry means her child is learning that Mama will come when she's hungry, tired, dirty, or discomforted in any way.
Babies need to cry. We need them to cry. Crying means proper development is taking place.
Stories like these offer a glimpse into why we approach orphan care in the way that we do.
Our Home Based Care Program (HBC) is a family-based program that both addresses and prevents the rise of the orphan population by caring for children in a home environment. Administered through our Church Partnership model, World Orphans partners US churches with international churches that wholistically care for orphaned and vulnerable children. These children are being raised by single mothers, extended family, neighbors, friends, or church members.
The goal of the program is to equip, inspire, and mobilize the local church to build relationships with at-risk families in their communities. Relationships grow through frequently visiting these families in their homes to offer prayer, Gospel training, counseling, and overall encouragement. To empower this wholistic approach to orphan care, World Orphans and US churches connect relationally with international churches to provide Gospel-focused training and funding. The funding for the HBC Program ensures that these children are being cared for wholistically.
Wholistic Care meets:
- Physical Needs – Protection, shelter, food, nutrition, access to clean drinking water, and medical care.
- Mental Needs – Access to, and support of, education and vocational training.
- Emotional Needs – Ongoing care through counseling and home visits.
- Spiritual Needs – Discipleship towards a relationship with Christ, transformation, and a restored image of dignity and true identity in Jesus Christ.
A child who has faced tremendous loss needs to know that his cries will be heard. A baby who has experienced tragedies untold needs to know she will be answered.
Orphan care will never be an ideal, flawless, beautiful operation because the very word "orphan" speaks to the loss, neglect, or abandonment that a child has faced. Though it will never be perfect, we should be pursuing excellence.
Let's create and support environments where a baby's cry is answered by loving arms. While we do this, let's continue hoping, praying, and dreaming of the day they all have homes.
CONTACT THE AUTHOR
World Orphans is not an adoption agency; however, we love the foster and adoptive families represented through our staff, donors, and communities. We rally behind your efforts to champion the cause of vulnerable and orphaned children. Sometimes it's hard though, isn't it? Sometimes it looks like this:
"I hate you. You're not even my real mom. You can't tell me what to do."
She wanted to pick up the explosive words that had seemingly shattered the fragile air into splintering shards of glass, but she couldn't. She'd welcomed him into their home over a year ago, with high hopes that they would be laughing, playing, and enjoying one another's company by now. But, they weren't.
When Jonathan wasn't throwing words like jujitsu knives at Elaine, he was lost in a meltdown with the crocodile tears, kicking, screaming – the whole deal. This had become the new "normal" for the Smith family and it was taking a toll on everyone.
Elaine and her husband, Jim, were not new to parenting. They had three older children that were – until Jonathan came into the house – doing relatively well. When Jim and Elaine announced their decision to adopt, their biological children were ecstatic about the prospect of having a younger brother or sister.
Jonathan, the six-year-old little boy with the messy mop of brown curls and the deep blue eyes, seemed to capture their hearts immediately. When the Smiths looked at the pictures from the adoption agency, they didn't see the brokenness in that sweet little face. He was a smart, handsome, and jovial little man and the Smiths looked forward to calling him "son".
Adoption wasn't what the Smiths thought it would be, though. The pictures didn't tell them about the lingering effects of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), the Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), or the Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). Maybe the agency rattled off those things at one point in the process, but how difficult could those things be? The Smiths had friends whose children were diagnosed with ADD and assumed it would all work out just fine. After all, Jonathan would be their fourth child.
The Smiths had no idea how difficult it would be to parent Jonathan. Adoption is beautiful, but it's also messy.
What happens next? What happens when all the things your parents did with you don't work? What happens when the way you parented your other children only leads to more tantrums, crying, and shouting? What happens when you find yourself at the end of your rope?
The Smiths' story is not uncommon. It's the story of many adoptive and foster families. It's the story of parents that truly care, but cannot seem to communicate with their new family member. It's the story that's being written over and over and over again, not only by adoptive families, but by foster and temporary placement families as well. What if the story could be different?
Mothers and fathers, allow us to introduce you to Empowered to Connect and the late Dr. Karyn Purvis. As Director of the TCU Institute of Child Development, Dr. Purvis focused the last decade of her life on researching and developing interventions for at-risk children. She co-authored The Connected Child with Dr. David Cross, and her wisdom has been ground-breaking for adoptive and foster families, social workers, and a variety of people working in childcare.
Empowered to Connect uses the Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI)® model developed by Dr. Purvis. "TBRI® is an attachment-based, trauma-informed intervention that is designed to meet the complex needs of vulnerable children. TBRI® uses Empowering Principles to address physical needs, Connecting Principles for attachment needs, and Correcting Principles to disarm fear-based behaviors. While the intervention is based on years of attachment, sensory processing, and neuroscience research, the heartbeat of TBRI® is connection."
Connection. We all crave it and were created for it.
As relational beings we [...] have a deep need and desire to connect with those around us. One of the most important and meaningful human connections is undoubtedly between a parent and a child. -Dr. Karyn Purvis
Connecting isn't always easy, though, and we've found the TBRI and Empowered to Connect principles helpful in the Wholistic Care training we offer to our church partners across the globe. Families like the Smiths have found hope in these principles as well. Christian Alliance for Orphans (CAFO) President Jedd Medefind says Empowered to Connect "brings together some of the nation’s very best experts on what adopted children and their families experience, and how parents can forge deep and lasting bonds with their children, even in the face of great difficulty."
Education is important. Medical care is important. A bed. A family. A house. But, a home – a place for love, redemption and healing – that's really the goal.
It looks so simple on paper or on a screen, but in those difficult moments when the tears are flowing and the screaming is only getting louder, it's hard, isn't it? If you're fostering or you've adopted, we know the struggle you've felt, and we'd love to remind you that God's grace is abundant, his mercies are new every morning, and his love is endless.
Let's tackle one day at a time . . . until they all have HOMES.
The Race That Eats Its Young. It's a daunting tagline, isn't it? Doesn't it make you want to sign up for the race tomorrow? The Barkley Marathons is a gruesome, agony-filled race whose distance exceeds 100 miles and whose memories could scar you for a lifetime. Nestled in the hills of Tennessee, the race challenges runners not only with the distance, but the hills, trees, briars, and early-spring possibilities of rain, snow, sleet, or hail. The course time limit is 60 hours. 60 hours of crying, bleeding, hallucinating, hungering, thirsting . . . fun?
In the first 25 years of the race's existence, only ten people completed the course. Despite its grimacing tagline and its infamous reputation (or because of it), hundreds of runners apply for the race each year. Only 40 of those that apply are given formal invitations (which are written in the form of condolence letters). The race follows a looped course. Three laps, approximately 78 miles, is considered a "fun run", and the full five-lap course finishes out at 130 miles.
If you aren't yet sick to your stomach, each loop of the race has a 12,000 foot ascent and 12,000 foot descent, making the full course equivalent to climbing Mt. Everest twice.
Lazarus Lake, cofounder of the Barkley Marathons, says runners "just had a fallback mentality [in the race's early history] that the race was just the fun run and the hundred [full race] was impossible." Nobody completed the full race course until nearly ten years after the race was established. Lake went on to say, "Once someone finished, you knew it really could be done."
Did you catch that? Runners assumed the race was impossible until someone completed it.
Until They All Have Homes.
It's a daunting tagline isn't it? When you place the desire to see every orphaned child in a home up against the reality that there are 150 million orphaned children in the world, this tagline doesn't seem to pay homage to the situation at hand.
- If we multiplied the Texas population by five, that number would still fall short of the amount of orphaned children in the world.
- The worldwide orphan population is larger than the entire population of Russia.
- If all the orphans in the world were placed in a country of their own, they would have the ninth largest country in the world.
Seeking to house and nurture every orphaned child in the world might as well be the world's most difficult 130-mile race, right? We know the challenge to "defend the weak and the fatherless" (Psalm 82:3), yet we feel like we don't know where to begin sometimes.
Here's the thing. It's going to be impossible until we do it.
When runners run the first four laps of the Barkley Marathons, they typically run together. They partner up – the seasoned Barkley runners with the newbies – and they tackle the course together because they know they stand a better chance against the terrain and their own weaknesses when they choose to not go alone.
I cannot do this alone. You cannot do this alone. World Orphans cannot do this alone. We're holding on to the grace of God, asking you to join hands with us, and tackling the orphan crisis one mile at a time. We aren't taking the "fun run" option. We aren't assuming this is impossible. We're in this for the long haul.
We're going to ride out the briar-covered hills, the snow-packed trails, the rainy miles, the blistered feet, and the relentless exhaustion. Far more than bragging rights and race medals are at stake here.
150 million children deserve hope. It's not impossible for every orphaned child to have a home. It's just that nobody has done it . . .
by President Scott Vair & Assistant Middle East Director Tim Buxton
It has been almost two years since ISIS swept through the Nineveh plains in brutal fashion, taking control of Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq. For those who managed to escape to relative safety, the task of putting together the shattered pieces of their lives is often too much. The armies of ISIS are still in control of Mosul, and although the Peshmerga Kurdish Army, with the support of the US military and other Western allies, has retaken key territory in the region, the battle rages on. The possibility of these hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Syrian families returning home anytime soon is an unrealistic dream.
One of the greatest casualties of the war with ISIS are the thousands of children robbed of their future, no longer able to go to school to simply learn how to read, write, or just have fun. Guns, grenades, and untold acts of merciless violence have stolen so much from these innocent children.
Realizing the importance of education, our team in Iraq began to dream and plan a response. What began in July of last year as a couple days per week of fun games, learning activities, and informal English classes for 130 Yazidi and Shabak children (ages 3-18), has now grown into a full-fledged school that meets five days per week.
Today, there are five teachers of mixed ethnic backgrounds and two social workers (who are Syrian refugees) that provide English, math, art, science, geography, music, and sport classes.
These classes are held in six classrooms on the ground floor of our community center, where there is also a library, a large multipurpose hall, and an outdoor soccer field used by the children on a daily basis. Students are transported to and from the school by bus and are given daily refreshments that include fruit, cookies, juice, and water.
If it weren’t for this school and other programs like it, these refugee children would be stuck in their camps, and likely be forced into child labor. Overcrowding and language barriers keep local schools from being an option for most refugee children. In some cases, the Iraqi and Syrian governments will not allow the students who miss more than two years of school to rejoin the classroom, forcing many students into the adult workforce prematurely. Without education many of these children will be left behind.
But, instead of losing all hope and missing out on their opportunity for an education, these children are now learning, growing, and dreaming in a caring environment. They are excited to come to school and their only complaint is that they cannot attend school more often. God has been gracious to give us this opportunity to make a difference in the lives of these precious children.
Unfortunately, our classrooms are busting at the seams. In just six months, the school has outgrown our community center. Without increased capacity, we will not be able to provide education for new children as we continue to expand our refugee ministry.
So, we are building a school!
Work is underway for the construction of a 16,000 square foot school that will have nine classrooms. The school will be built on a vacant area of land adjacent to our community center and soccer field. Not only will we be able to triple the size of our current student capacity, we will be able to provide more age-relevant education to the children, as we no longer have to combine multiple age groups into shared classes.
Laying the foundation for the new school building
The community center will then be free to operate as an additional learning facility, providing various programs like trauma counseling, and sewing, cosmetic, computer, and trade classes.
We are grateful for all who have joined us on this journey to care for refugees and their children during these times. Would you consider joining us in prayer? Would you consider financially supporting this project as construction continues. It is both a daunting task and a wonderful opportunity, and we would be honored to have your support.
We like the notion of doing it all on our own, don't we? In a nation that celebrates self-starters, independence, and the "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" mentality, we've glorified individualized efforts and often missed out on the vast opportunities afforded by working together with one another. To be clear, individual work ethic is important and there is–of course–work that only you can do. However, are we missing the bigger picture when we do it all on our own and forget about the incredible network of people that God has made available to us? When we tackle it alone, are we accomplishing less instead of more?
3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. Romans 12:3-8
We often look at verses like these, smile, think, "what a nice thought," and then go on with our day. The idea of fully embracing our community of believers and engaging with them in authentic ways is a beautiful concept, but we often fail to pursue it.
What would it look like to embrace our role as the Body of Christ? What would it look like if we brought our different personalities, gifts, talents, strengths, and backgrounds together and used them for good? The global church has an extravagant amount of talent, wisdom, and resources when we work together.
153 million orphaned children need us to work together to find solutions to the orphan crisis, and the solution is rooted in relationship, partnership, and the firm belief that the Body of Christ is a beautiful, powerful force. We need to hold hands on this one. The future of orphaned and vulnerable children is dependent on the global church working together . . .
until they all have homes.
Watch our newest video to learn how we can work together for orphaned and vulnerable children.
Find out how your church can get involved in Church Partnership.
"An architect." Her boldness and creativity caught me off guard. It was the sixth classroom of the day in which we'd asked the students, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" Her response surprised me because it was one I hadn't heard yet.
The teenage students were packed into a tiny classroom, and though their language was unfamiliar, the stares, giggles, and whispering felt very similar to the way a US classroom would feel brimming with teenagers.
The heat, the language barrier, and the mental exhaustion of the day was making us run close to empty, but we mustered up more energy for this new group. We began, as we had with other classes, by asking the expectant faces about their plans for the future. We heard dreams and plans bounce off the walls: teacher, doctor, nurse.
Esther* claimed she wanted to be an architect.
We began to talk to the students about the importance of not only choosing a career to pursue, but the importance of choosing their words carefully. We discussed how they talk to their friends, to their parents, to God, and to themselves. Recognizing the lies imbedded in the saying, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me," we told them how hurtful words can be. But, of course, they already knew this.
When we finished talking to the class, we offered to take questions. Esther's hand immediately shot up and she whispered for what felt like 30 minutes to our translator, Davidson. In reality, it was probably less than two minutes, but have you ever stood in front of a classroom full of teenagers? They stare at you.
Davidson turned to face our group—me, Mike, DeAhna, and Shydonna—and he relayed the story of a broken-hearted girl who so confidently announced her desire to be an architect, yet deep down was considering being a criminologist. She'd confided in someone she loved about her dreams, but that person told her she couldn't be a criminologist, and Esther wanted to know what to do and where to go from here.
Shydonna in Haiti
What Esther didn't know is that our team was blessed to have the brilliance and heart of Shydonna Tossie, director and owner of Ampersand School in Longwood, Florida. Shydonna is an educator, motivator, and big dreamer, but most importantly, Shydonna's love for children cannot be exaggerated.
Shydonna communicated many things to Esther that day, as she encouraged her to continue pursuing her desire to be a criminologist, but the most important things she conveyed to this heavy-hearted young woman were hope, love, and confidence. The conversation ended in tearful prayers and the kind of hug that must have made the angels sing.
Esther's school was attached to the local church, and following that final conversation in the classroom, we went into the church auditorium with our group. It wasn't long before a backpack-bearing girl with an orange gingham top and navy skirt made her way into the auditorium. Her eyes raced around the room before she quickly located Shydonna. Esther, seemingly forgetting the language barrier, sat down next to Shydonna to rest her head on Shydonna's shoulder. Words weren't important anymore. Esther needed hope, love, and the knowledge that someone had confidence in her. She'd found that in Shydonna, and that was enough.
[box] Every child deserves a champion, an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection, and insists that they become the best that they can possibly be. -Rita Pierson[/box]
This is the kind of impact Shydonna makes every single day at Ampersand School, where she frequently whispers in the ears of young learners, "Somebody is waiting for you to be great." Isn't it fascinating how some messages need to be communicated regardless of the culture? Isn't it amazing to think that children everywhere are dreaming big and waiting for us to encourage them to fly? What Shydonna knows and what you and I may fail to remember is that education isn't just about education. When children learn and dream, they're setting a pathway for their future.
[easy-tweet tweet="Somebody is waiting for you to be great. - Shydonna Tossie, Director/Owner Ampersand School"]
If you were to ask her, Shydonna would tell you she wasn't always this inspiring to those around her. As a college student feeling the weight of the world, she stood at a Christian youth conference in a sea of depression. Tears were staining Shydonna's face when a strange woman approached her and said:
What you're going through right now isn't even about you. Somebody is going to come behind you who needs to know that you survived. That person needs you to get through this because they need to know they can survive, too.
15 years later, Shydonna holds those words tightly in her hand, carrying them with her every day, knowing that this woman—whose name she'll never know—changed her life.
Arguably Shydonna may have done the same thing for Esther. Words of wisdom. A prayer. A hug at the perfect time. Children around the world need to know that we're waiting for them to be great. Orphaned and vulnerable children especially need to know that the world is waiting for them to be great. Though their circumstances understandably may seem insurmountable, we need 153 million orphaned children to know that we're waiting for them.
Shydonna and Esther
At World Orphans, we talk a lot about wholistically caring for orphaned and vulnerable children, ensuring their physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs are all being addressed, but orphan care at the end of the day isn't really about orphan care at all.
We aren't caring for orphans. We're pouring into future doctors, teachers, and nurses. We're empowering architects, engineers, and mothers. We're investing in fathers, mechanics, and entrepreneurs. When you look into the eyes of a child, you are looking into the future of that community, town, and country. The child's circumstances may have rendered him or her orphaned, but that is not the child's permanent identity.
The second we start believing that orphan care is merely about orphan care, we've forgotten the potential that lies in those beautiful brains, the passion that burns in those big hearts, and the dreams that soar higher than the clouds. These boys and girls . . . they're going to be great.
*Name changed to protect identity.