This is part one of a four part series, during which we will unpack some of the leading issues linked to the orphan crisis. The first three blog posts will focus on leading issues that impact the orphan crisis, while the last blog post will unpack our approach to caring for orphans and addressing these issues. 

  • Total estimated number of orphans worldwide:  150 Million
  • Estimated number that have lost only their mother:  34.5 Million
  • Estimated number that have lost only their father:  101 Million
  • Estimated number of double orphans:  17.6 million
  • Estimated number of children on streets or in residential care:  2-8 Million (CAFO)

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. 

So, how did it happen? How are we living in 2016 and staring into the eyes of 150 million orphaned children that need homes? 

The orphan cycle is an epidemic that echoes the sorrow and darkness of a broken world. Answers to the orphan crisis are complex, never instantly gratifying, and wrapped up in a myriad of obstacles. Yet, as we seek the day every orphaned child has a home, we must exercise due diligence to fully understand why we’re facing an orphan crisis in the first place. Simply giving someone a bandage is not always enough. Sometimes it’s important to know why they’re bleeding . . . because sometimes you should do more than offer a bandage.


According to the United Nations Development Programme, "while the number of people living in extreme poverty dropped by more than half between 1990 and 2015–from 1.9 billion to 836 million–too many are still struggling for the most basic human needs." More than 800 million people are living on less that $1.25 per daymaking poverty the leading cause of family disruption. 

And poverty, as we know, trickles down into every other facet of life. When your bank account runs dry, everything else suffers . . . food choices, medical care, educational opportunities, etc. More than 90 million children under the age of five are dangerously underweight, while 25% of people across the continent of Africa continue to go hungry (UNDP). Each day, 16,000 children die from preventable diseases like measles and tuberculosis, while hundreds of women die daily during pregnancy or from child-birth related complications (UNDP). As of 2014, 795 million people worldwide are considered chronically underweight (UNDP). It's difficult to overemphasize the toll that poverty takes on families.

Beyond the physical affects that we can see, poverty impacts the mental and spiritual well being of individuals. Peter Greer, CEO of Hope International, asked a group of Rwandan women living on less than $2 a day, "How do you define poverty?" These were the top five answers he received:

  1. Poverty is an empty heart
  2. Poverty is not knowing your abilities or strengths
  3. Poverty is not being able to make progress
  4. Poverty is isolation
  5. Poverty is no hope or belief in yourself

Not what you expected?

For these women (Greer), as for many others in similar situations, poverty has gone far beyond impacting access to food, medical care, education, and other opportunities. Poverty has disrupted their relationships, robbed them of their dignity, and destroyed their self-worth.

Some families in the US find temporary relief and assistance through their local churches or government assistance programs, but what happens when those don't exist? What happens when those in your village are struggling with the same things you are, yet nobody is discussing the issues? What happens when you're looking at the five mouths to feed and trying to determine which children get to eat today?

Though children make up only about one third of the world's population, they account for nearly half of those living in extreme poverty (SOS). The world's most vulnerable are the most affected by global poverty. And poverty is part of a vicious and heartbreaking cycle.

A child who becomes orphaned due to poverty, HIV/AIDS, war, natural disaster, or other causes, quickly becomes vulnerable to a variety of other threats: extreme poverty, human trafficking, becoming a child soldier, etc. And the cycle risks continuing on, spinning out of control, as that child eventually has children of his or her own, making them vulnerable as well.

If poverty lays a foundation for family disruption, then combating poverty is essential to addressing the orphan crisis. If families are weakened when they are impoverished, economic empowerment can help breathe new life into those dark, lonely places and strengthen families.