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".
Institutionalized care (like orphanages) was once the standard of care for orphaned children. As churches and other NGOs watched the orphan crisis explode across the globe, they answered that crisis by funding and building orphanages at lightning speed. It seemed like the fastest possible response to a growing and vulnerable worldwide population. Additionally, this approach addressed the need to get children off the streets and into schools with full bellies.
Orphanages were built with hearts full of love and eyes full of hope. They were constructed by many hands and wallets that were eager to love the least of these—the most vulnerable. Humanitarian organizations and churches of all sizes scraped together money and flew people around the world to build orphanages in order to get children off the streets and into buildings. But the best intentions don't necessarily produce the best results.
In 2015, of the estimated 32,000 children residing in Haitian orphanages, approximately 80% of those children had at least one living parent who wanted him/her (Independent). The problem, however, is not confined to Haiti. 8 million children across the globe are living in institutions, not because they are orphaned, but because they are impoverished, from an ethnic minority, or disabled (Lumos). For a variety of reasons—social stigmas, poverty, war, natural disaster—families are either unable or unwilling to care for their children.
The orphan crisis was initially addressed in a reactionary manner rather than through preventative measures, and over time, the results of this approach have been less than favorable. In addition to leading vulnerable families to believe that abandoning their children at an orphanage is their only option, orphanages frequently lack the necessary staff and structure needed to properly care for a child's mental and emotional development, thus, while a child may be well-fed and receiving an education, he may also be struggling with the emotional and mental trauma associated with lacking a family unit.
It's important to note that no form of orphan care is perfect. The word "orphan" speaks to a depth of brokenness that is far-reaching and traumatic. Ideally, a child never becomes an orphan in the first place. While we cannot prevent every child from from experiencing loss, we can partner with vulnerable families to ensure fewer children become orphaned in the future. Additionally, we can come alongside the families that have chosen to care for orphaned children, ensuring they remain within the family unit.
What does this look like programmatically?
Our local church partners in the 12 countries where we currently work are—and always will be—at the center of our approach to orphan care. World Orphans partners with these churches to provide the following family-based care options rather than placing children in large orphanages:
Home Based Care (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 each wholistically care for 20 orphaned and vulnerable children. These children are being raised by single mothers, extended family, neighbors, friends, or church members.
Refugee Micro-Camps are family-based entities in Iraq that provide a place of refuge for refugee families and vulnerable children fleeing ISIS. The Refuge Initiative, a World Orphans division, develops micro-camps in partnership with the refugees, placing their specific needs first and empowering them with autonomy. The result is the formation of genuine communities of hope. By keeping our camps small (in the range of 100-250 people), we maintain the normal village social structure that most refugees come from, greatly minimizing the difficulties of transition and giving them the strong sense of community and family—a sense that is completely lost in larger camps.
Residential Care is a program administered through the local church. While this program is less common throughout our organization, we have found that—when administered well—this type of care can provide the wholistic care a child needs within a smaller family-like environment. These programs provide care for children abused, abandoned, or neglected in cooperation with local government officials. Reunification, caregiver stability, and family modeling are some of the goals. Administered through our Church Partnership model, World Orphans partners US churches with international churches that typically care for 4-10 children.
But does it work?
When Frimose's friend died, she left behind a daughter, 8-year-old Saraphina. Frimose took in Saraphina as though she were her own daughter. Looking back now, Frimose says the early years were challenging, but she focused on keeping Saraphina in school and church. Frimose knew that focusing on Saraphina’s education and spiritual development would provide consistency for her in the midst of brokenness and chaos.
Frimose doesn't care for Saraphina alone, though. Pastor Carlos’ church in Haiti supports Saraphina through the Home Based Care Program, ensuring she receives the spiritual, physical, emotional, and mental care needed to continue growing and ultimately thrive.
Saraphina will graduate from secondary school on time–an extremely rare case for an orphaned child. She is a beautiful, smart girl who loves to study French and dreams of one day being a lawyer.
Belnysh didn't want to leave her four-year-old son, Beniyam, at an orphanage, but she felt like she had no options. She visited him as frequently as possible, but he struggled to remember her when she'd visit. As a widow in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Belnysh felt helpless.
When Lafto Kale Heywet Church, a World Orphans church partner, learned about her circumstances, they came alongside Belnysh with the support she needed to care for her children. She started a teashop with a small business loan through the Home Based Care savings program. Through the encouragement of World Orphans Program Manager of Ethiopia, Belginesh, the Home Based Care participants started a savings program that equips them to save a small amount of money each month. Each loan is about $25 and is paid back over the course of a year.
Belynsh has Beniyam back in her home with her other son, Dawit. She works diligently at her tea shop six days per week to earn enough money to keep the boys at home, and she receives some additional assistance through the Home Based Care Program that provides some food, medical care, and educational expense assistance for the boys.
A family that was once struggling to survive is now thriving and saving for the future.
other Stories of hope
Here are a few more of our favorite stories of hope through Church Partnership and family-based care.
Rachel is a big-hearted, big-dreaming 17-year-old girl, whose giggles and selfies might lead you to forget the tremendous loss she has already faced in her young life. She is smart, with a head full of business ideas and tangible plans to make her dreams a reality. In partnership with other girls at her school, Rachel has already launched a business selling handmade goods and is currently in the process of learning about accounting and other business management skills.
Masresha and Meron were located through a church in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and Meron is now part of the Home Based Care Program. Through the Home Based Care Program, the local church has come alongside Masresha to ensure that Meron receives adequate food, housing, education, and medical care. By partnering with Masresha, the church is able to ensure that Meron remains in a loving family environment, while receiving all the important things she needs to grow spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically.
In 2012, an accident broke Camila’s spine, but it broke more than that. It broke her heart. She still has not seen her two older sons since her husband took them to Costa Rica, and she still suffers physically from her injuries. But healing is now taking place. The family that neglected her has been replaced by one that loves and cares for her deeply. Her two young sons are now enrolled in school. They’ve also grown healthier and happier, no longer fearing adults. Camila previously suffered from loneliness and despair, but now, she has a support group of friends who pray for her and encourage her. She still faces many challenges, but she knows that God is with her.
We believe children belong in loving families where they will be cared for emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually. And we believe Church Partnership is the best way to bring unity to the Body of Christ, spread the gospel, and pursue excellence in orphan care . . .