what about orphanages? (part 1)

So… yeah, today (Thursday) has been a little bit less than awesome around here. Our fam has kind of been through the wringer lately. So no big Read-Along Introduction post with snazzy graphics and brilliant reading schedules. But that’s okay. That will give me more time to nag you to join us. And for you to get the book. (I’m thrilled that so many of you are in already!!)

And in the meantime, I want to get started on a little series of posts that I think are important. About orphanages. And whether they’re really helping kiddos or actually doing more harm than good.

A week or so ago, I got a facebook message from my friend Heather. She and her family have recently returned to Texas after spending time in Haiti. She was getting ready to post a link to an article about orphan care in Cambodia and wanted to make sure she didn’t hurt me by it.

She said she thought the article raised some valid questions, but that she didn’t want me to think that she and Aaron thought that our work in Cambodia was wrong, or “anything less than beautiful.” Then she said a bunch more nice stuff that made me go “awwww…”

I messaged her back and thanked her for being so sweet to think of my feelings. I read the article, and it made me sad. Because there was so much truth in it. So much. But it also gave me hope, because I knew that “our” orphanage in Cambodia was exempt from all of the red flags the article raised. Not exempt because they’ve been granted some special status, but because they truly want what’s best for these kids, and they’re doing this orphan care thing right.

And they’re not the only ones doing it right.

And there are lots of good, right ways to help orphans. And there are lots of good, right ways to keep kiddos from becoming orphans. Because that would be the best-case scenario, no?

There are also some very sad and dangerous things going on around the world in the name of “orphan care.” Exploitation of children for financial gain. The tearing apart of families. Emotional abandonment stemming from a revolving door of volunteers. Exposure to child predators. Awful stuff like that.

And I think it’s so easy to get overwhelmed by all of this and think, “So are orphanages good or are they bad?” And the answer is so much more complex than that.

I talked to John McCollum, Executive Director of Asia’s Hope, and asked him if he’d be willing to answer some questions and address some concerns about orphanages and if they’re really in the best interest of kiddos in Cambodia. He said absolutely. He also pointed me to another site that warns people of the dangers of Orphanage Tourism.

One thing is for sure. Caring for orphans is a biblical mandate. We just want to make sure we’re really, truly caring for them like Jesus wants us to.

So, here’s what I’m hoping we can do here on the blog next week:

1. If orphan care is something that matters to you, I’d love for you to read the article and browse the site.

2. If you have personal experiences to share or know of some organizations that are doing this thing right, tell us about them.

3. Have questions or concerns? Share them in the comments.

John will be on hand to answer your questions and address your concerns as we go. (And tomorrow he’ll be sharing his personal story on the blog–good stuff.)

48 thoughts on “what about orphanages? (part 1)

  1. Pingback: GraceConnect » Asia’s Hope Provides Essential, Lifesaving Help

  2. Pingback: Marla Taviano » what about orphanages? (part 4)

  3. Pingback: Marla Taviano » what about orphanages? (part 3)

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  6. Missy - it's almost Naptime

    I will read these tomorrow, but I already have an idea of what they will say.

    I’ve learned enough about the adoption/orphan care ‘industry’ in the past few months to make me throw up and question everything. 

    The Enemy prowls like a lion and seems to find orphans mighty tasty.

    It makes it quite complicated for Christians to answer the call to protect them.

    But, God tends to be mighty complicated, doesn’t he?

  7. Rebekah Gambrell

    YES so glad that you are talking about this….. The kids that we worked with in Bolivia have had volunteers that have been around as long as they have which has helped so much. BUT we as Americans (I being one that has had to learn the hard way) believe that we can go help some kids on our vacations and make a huge impact without counting the cost to the children. We expect them to open up to us and share their misery and then leave them with some Bible verses and a craft. We need to invest in these homes not make them stops on our vacation or at least support the people who are with them every day in and out. Who have to deal with them and all their daily problems.
    I think it is great that where you went you invested your time in the workers too. That is were the battle is won. The children look to the workers at the home like their parents. I have seen so many times people who usurp the authority of the administrators of the homes they visit and damage is done.

  8. Tom Vanderwell

    Marla – just found out about your site from Jen Hatmaker on FB. Thank you for bringing up this issue. I work for an orphanage in Haiti (we adopted our two youngest from them) and while the vast majority of the orphanages in Haiti are horrible (Heather and I have discussed this at length), God’s Littlest Angels does one of the better jobs of navigating a very difficult and dangerous road. We aim to be the safety net that catches the children who truly have no one to care for them. Is it painful? On a daily basis. The term “children from hard places” isn’t a misnomer. But it can be done in ways that will alleviate as much of the pain as possible and promote as much healing as possible. I look forward to additional discussions on this in the future. Tom

    1. Marla Taviano

      Thanks so much, Tom. I’d love to hear more about your orphanage and what God is doing in Haiti! I’ve got a special place in my heart for mamas/babies/kiddos (okay, everyone) in that country.

  9. Danielle

    This is such a big, hard, messy thing to be prayerfully talking about. Thank you so much for bringing it to light! As a future adoptive mom, Lord willing, I’ve read a lot about the state of orphans around the world and it seems that there’s no “right” answer, which makes me infinitely thankful for a sovereign God. Often when I pray for our daughter I pray that she is not being exploited in any way by the people who are caring for her now. As hard as it is to think that I’m not there to protect her, I have to trust that God’s plan for her life, and mine, is good. Let’s keep talking about the hard stuff, and prayerfully considering how we can be lights shining in the darkness!

    1. John McCollum

      Oh, Danielle, I completely identify with you.

      All three of my kids were adopted — Korea, Vietnam and China. I love the idea of adoptive parents getting involved in not just international adoption, but in long-term, in-country orphan care.

      I will pray for your daughter. We were so blessed. My oldest son and youngest daughter were in state run orphanages that actually provided good care.

      I pray that your daughter is being loved and nurtured even today!

      1. Danielle

        John, thank you so much for your prayers! Where our daughter is we believe is a safe and nurturing place with amazing Christian people, but being on the other side of the world means I have to place a lot of trust in people I don’t know. God is continually reminding my heart that she is a gift from his Daddy heart to my momma heart, and I get to keep giving her back to him.

  10. Joy

    A ministry that friends of mine are connected to and that I applied to is newhopeuganda.org If marriage hadn’t come along 🙂 I would probably be there right now. They have a different approach to child care and I love it.

  11. Jen Hanson

    “Emotional abandonment stemming from a revolving door of volunteers”

    When our team left the orphanage we had worked at last year in Uganda, the look of heartbreak (even abandonment) in the eyes of some of the kids who got close to our team was incredibly difficult for me to process. I don’t know that I’d ever thought about this side of mission trips before then and I wondered (still do) if the joy and love we showered on those kids for two weeks was worth the tearing of their hearts when we left them. Did we cause a deeper wound than our two weeks of love and kisses could even salve?

    1. John McCollum


      I do think that this is an important topic to discuss. And the most important underlying question we need to ask any time we do anything is: “Is this the best thing for the kids?”

      If an orphan care organization’s primary source of funding is bringing in visitors, it seems inevitable that the tail will one day wag the dog, and that the need for money from visitors will eclipse the need of the kids to have some sort of normal life.

      I do think there’s a responsible way for orphan care organizations to facilitate visits, but it must be done with the kids’ best interests in mind.

      That’s why a stable funding model that doesn’t depend on “voluntourism” is so essential.

  12. janelle

    Going to Africa and first hand seeing scam artist using the name of JESUS CHRIST….yet they were helping people….the two together amazed me. Handing out blankets to a war torn area….yet doing it all for the good of ” SELF “……but then God guiding me 1/2 mile down the muddy street to Joy Orphanage in Matisi, Kenya…and there I found Benson…..in that orphanage, to fall asleep every night to children in the orphanage literally with the sweetest spirit, PRAISING JESUS CHRIST….worshipping….. Seeing the JOY in their eyes and the joy in their hearts. Teaching them truly to trust with their own personal little lives…” He will never leave you or forsake you ” We are now on a journey that is going to build a new orphanage in Liyavo, Kenya… Christ alone will be in the center, head and behind it. Their school will be called ” Shema School of Liyavo ” Shema = to hear as though to obey….if they hear the Word of God…as though to go to all of Africa to obey….it will be the witness of JESUS CHRIST….in that, I pray we will be ” doing it right ” http://www.unreined.com

    1. Marla Taviano

      I just rescued your comment from my spam folder. Soooo thankful for God leading you to Benson, and I can’t wait to meet him! And someday to see Shema School of Liyavo with my own two eyes!

  13. Melissa Irwin

    I have a personal experience story.

    My heartbreak for orphans took me to Zimbabwe (Africa) in 2008. I’ve since been back many times. What I discovered in the first trip was that out of the 5 orphanage programs I participated in, at least 3 and possibly 4 of them were corrupt. It was so obvious. The “orphans” were dirty, malnourised, not in school, etc. The young orphans were even in charge of preparing their own food… porridge, which they had to cook in a hot iron pot on a fire, outdoors. Meanwhile, the orphanage director and his family lived in the main house up on the hill, sent their kids to the very best schools, drove 2 Mercedes, etc. It was disgusting. I visited them several times over a 3 year period and it only got worse. HOWEVER… over that same 3 year period I formed a close friendship with a woman who had walked away from everything her (nice) life afforded her, to take in about 60 orphans and care for them on her own. She established 3 orphanages and a school. They are the most treasured, beautiful children I have ever met. They are not only well-loved, they are learning to farm, raise chickens, make peanut-butter, etc. They are all immersed in the Word, etc. But becuase there are always challenges to pay for school fees, transportation, maintenance, etc… I founded a charitable org with them (these orphanages in Zimbabwe) as our first focus… .although we hope to expand globally in many ways over the years to come. We want to plant and grow orphanages that are operating well, using the Zim orphanages as a model for future endeavors. The challenges and needs are far too many to list here… but thank you for opportunity to share. So far our little organization is making a big impact on the Kingdom… and I am so humbled and grateful to be able to serve in this way. http://www.beautifulfeetgo.org

    1. John McCollum


      Great to hear your story. It resonates with me. In the early days of Asia’s Hope, I visited some awful state-run orphanages in Cambodia, and knew immediately that if we were to engage in orphan care, we’d need to do it really differently.

      I don’t know where you live, but there’s going to be an orphan summit at Vineyard Church of Columbus in March. I’m sure you’d meet a lot of people with your heart.


      I’ve found that it’s super important to find encouragement from others doing the same kind of important and difficult work.

        1. John McCollum

          No problem. Vineyard Columbus is a great (and very big) local church with a global reach. It seems like God’s doing something big there, raising up a large group of people passionate about orphan care. Only good things can come from that, right?

          1. Melissa Irwin

            Marla… are you serious? Wow – Jesus must really want me to attend this event. 🙂 Because you just made it way too difficult to say “no”. I will take you up on it right now….and will start getting things coordinated here so that I can attend. (Kiddos, etc). Will you please email me your address so that I can google map it and budget my travel time? Oh gosh…. I’m overwhelmed. Thank you. Melissa (@) beautifulfeetgo. org

          2. John McCollum

            Sounds cheaper than the Embassy Suites!

            I’d love to get together for dinner with some of y’all attending. (I see you’re from Nashville, so I used y’all. Just to be nice).

          3. Melissa Irwin

            I had used “y’all” in an earlier response and had to edit myself. “y’all” is my favorite word. I have taught it to my friends in Zimbabwe. It sounds truly hilarious when they say it. It comes out “ya-ow”.

            Thank you so much, precious Marla!

          4. John McCollum

            Melissa, there are lots of good hotels in the area.

            The Embassy Suites is very nice, and is reasonable at about $100 per night. Reasonable for what you get, that is.

            And it’s probably less than a mile from the church.


            Perhaps I should host a meetup for the evening or day before the conference?

          5. Marla Taviano

            Running out of room for replies, huh? A dinner meet-up would be awesome, John. And I’m super-excited for you to stay with me, Melissa! Nashville is an easy-breezy drive. 🙂 And I loooooooove to say y’all!

  14. Ruth

    I would like to know if Compassion international is one of the organizations that is doing things right. I’ve visited a Compassion center in Brazil, and they seem to care & be doing things right, but I’m wondering if others have more info. Thanks for addressing this. Orphans (both in US and not) are on my heart and have been since I was a young girl.

    1. Marla Taviano

      Compassion is awesome, in my opinion. The difference with them is that they aren’t taking in orphans. People are sponsoring poor children (so they can have adequate meals, clothes, education), but those kids still live with their families. I think it’s an incredible thing they’re doing. (Have you read Shaun Groves’ blog? http://shaungroves.com) The difference with Asia’s Hope is that these kids don’t HAVE families. They need a family and a place to live. I’ll try to talk more about Compassion soon. Thanks, Ruth!

    2. John McCollum

      I don’t have a lot of direct experience with Compassion, but I do believe they’re doing good work.

      There are lots of great organizations doing good work — problems arise when any of us start to believe that only our model works, or that there’s only one way of addressing the variety of problems orphans face.

      1. John McCollum

        And Marla’s right. There is definitely a need for organizations to minister to families at risk. We’re focused specifically on kids who do not have families who can provide even the most basic care.

        There’s a whole spectrum of problems affecting kids, and a whole spectrum of good solutions. It appears that Compassion is doing a good work on a slightly different part of the spectrum.

  15. Beth

    Another blogger I follow just returned from Jamaica where her daughter works with a group who works with a locally run orphanage. Her series on the trip works well with this post, and I think you would find it interesting. The local orphanage is called “Blossom” and I think it sounds like anything but a beautiful flower! The Mennonite mission there is involved with the orphanage. They visit, they foster children, it sounds like a beautiful thing. It shows good and bad of orphan care right in the same story, how they are coming along beside something awful and doing something good.

  16. Sarah Hubbell aka MainlineMom

    Thank you SO MUCH for this! Orphan care is something I am passionate about and I had read similar articles to that one before and had some concerns. I have no real personal experience with an orphanage YET, although we support a program/orphanage in Brazil monetarily. I believe that Hope Unlimited for Children is doing it right, and that’s evidenced by the testimonies of some of the kids who have been taken in by them, grown up and graduated from their program and have gone on to break the cycle of poverty and abuse and abandonment with their own new families.

    If you would be willing to just “Like” their FB page, they have a donor willing to give a dollar for EVERY FB Like they get up to 10,000. https://www.facebook.com/hopeunlimitedforchildren

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