what about orphanages? (part 3)

A couple items of interest before we jump back in to our discussion on orphanages and whether they’re helpful or harmful to children.

1. It’s not too late to sign up for the 7 Read-a-Long. Remember, you’re not signing your life away, just introducing yourself to your fellow sojourners. We won’t even judge you if you become a Read-a-Long Drop-Out. (you’ll be joining the ranks of some mighty fine folks from read-a-longs past)

2. I know I’ve alluded to some hard stuff going on in our family of late, but I didn’t feel at liberty to share details (except privately with concerned friends). But my sweet hubby posted this on Facebook tonight, so I’ll share it here too: “Been maybe the roughest week of my life, with a nice dose of anxiety and panic attacks months after the 10/29/11 heart attack. But, my God will never leave me (Deut 31:6), and He sure has chosen the right people to help me out!” Thanks for your prayers, friends. God is crazy good.

Alrighty, here we go. If you missed the first 3 posts on orphan care, we’re talking to John McCollum, Executive Director of Asia’s Hope, and you can catch up on those posts here, here, and here.

Me: Tough question for you, John. UNICEF is concerned about the emotional loss that the children may feel from exposure to a revolving door of volunteers. “While at the orphanage most volunteers seek to build emotional bonds with the children so they can feel they made a difference. Though well intended, this leads to a never-ending round of abandonment.”

Do you think this is something you need to be concerned about at Asia’s Hope? How can you know that visits from mission teams are helping more than hurting?

John: This is certainly something to be concerned about. And this type of issue is one that we’ve addressed a multiple levels in our organization. A bit of context, first. There are a number of orphanages in Cambodia and across the developing world who rely on donations from “voluntourists” to fund their operations. This is a very risky model that opens the kids up to all kinds of potential dangers.

Aside from the very real attachment-related issues identified by UNICEF in the article you mention, children at these types of institutions are subject to wild fluctuations in the level of care they receive – when they get lots of visitors, they have enough food and medicine and money for schools. When they don’t, they don’t.

Also, this type of an arrangement is a child-protection nightmare. By inviting a never-ending stream of strangers, you drastically increase the chances of giving pedophiles access to vulnerable children who may be abused at the institution due to poor oversight by the staff or enticed away from the institution by offers of money or promises of other favors. As a result, many people who walk away from these types of visits feeling like they’ve done something good for the kids, actually end up propagating a model that can be harmful.

Although we at Asia’s Hope do host visitors from abroad at our children’s homes, our model is philosophically, strategically and tactically very different from that critiqued by UNICEF and others as “orphanage tourism.”

Asia’s Hope is not a volunteer placement organization, nor are we a short term missions oriented ministry. We exist to provide high-quality, family-style residential care for orphaned children at high risk of sexual and economic exploitation. The good of the children is always our top priority. All of our homes enjoy stable, ample funding from Asia’s Hope International, which recruits church partners in North America into long-term relationships with individual homes. We work hard to foster real, respectful relationships between the staff and kids at our homes and the leadership and selected congregants at the partnering churches. To maintain that relationship, we facilitate visits from the partnering churches, usually one or two times a year. Each visit operates under the authority of a partnering church, and within strict guidelines detailed in our child protection policy. We also occasionally host “vision trips,” designed to recruit churches and key donors into long-term funding relationships with Asia’s Hope. On a very limited basis, we also permit families who have supported Asia’s Hope in the context of a church partnership to visit the homes.

Me: Well, praise the Lord for very limited bases (basises?). I speak for my whole little family when I say THANK YOU for letting us spend so much time with our dear friends at Prek Eng 3. They mean the world to us.

Oh, sorry. I totally got all carried away. MAN, I miss those kids! Where were we…?

We work hard to respect the needs and wishes of our indigenous staff when we plan these visits; we try to schedule them at times that are conveniently aligned with the kids’ school calendar, and we work with our staff to make sure that visitors engage in activities that promote, rather than detract from family cohesion. In short, our homes are not tourist attractions. We welcome family and family friends, but like your home and mine, we do not have an unmediated, “open door” policy.

Me: I can vouch for everything you just said. And very well said, by the way.

Okay, this next question’s another tough one. I have lots of friends (online and in real life) who have a real heart for orphans. What advice would you give for those who want to be involved in a hands-on way (besides just giving money)? And beyond Asia’s Hope, what kinds of things do they need to find out before giving their time/money/resources to an orphanage (or organization that supports orphanages)?

First of all, I want to offer a word of encouragement and affirmation. Caring for orphans is one of the highest, noblest aspirations I can think of. As a Christian, I believe that God’s spirit dwells in a very real way among the poor, the oppressed, the orphaned and the abandoned. There is a special blessing for all who give sacrificially to help orphans, a deep communion with Jesus that is impossible to attain from mere church attendance, formal worship or even Bible study. That having been said, some strategies and some motivations for serving orphans are more helpful than others.

Me: I’m so sorry to cut you off, right before you give us some of those awesome strategies, but we’re out of time and space. Tomorrow!

In the meantime, what questions do you have for John? Or, again, feel free to share some of your own personal experiences with orphan care (either good or bad).

12 thoughts on “what about orphanages? (part 3)

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

  3. Dorian

    God has blessed me in that I have been able to establish, maintain and foster a relationship with many orphans in Choluteca, Honduras, since 2002. I have been able to go 7 times. I have been able to make real, physical improvements to their living conditions. I have been able to love on them and pray for them. Now, with technology, I can even chat with them on FB. I trust that God put us in each others’ lives for the Kingdom. We are the Body of Christ – these orphans and me. I also have a relationship with several people in the church there. This is ALL God, not me. They are an inseperable part of my life, my Honduran brothers and sisters in Christ.

  4. Kelly S

    When I think of orphans, I think of my friend Brayan. He’s a 12 year old who lives at an orphanage in Tijuana, Mexico, along with several of his nine siblings. His mom is alive and he sees her occasionally, but she’s not able to care for her children… I think primarily because of financial difficulties, but don’t know for sure. As far as I know, dad is out of the picture.

    I met Brayan four and a half years ago on a trip with Corazon de Vida, a Southern California based organization that supports 14 orphanages in Baja California. They aren’t a Christian organization, but nearly all of the orphanages are. CDV sponsors day-long monthly bus trips to several of these orphanages. The goal of the trips are to provide one-on-one attention to the children, relief for the live-in moms who work at the orphanage, and to raise up sponsors for the children there. In addition, occasionally they’ll host a special trip just for medical workers from the US to go and provide check-ups and basic care for the kids.

    I started going on orphanage trips with CDV in college (in Orange County, California, about two hours north of Mexico), and I had been on several trips before I met Brayan. On those early trips, I just kind of “floated” around the common areas playing with kids – perhaps an hour of coloring with one until she lost interest, then 30 minutes of pushing another on the swings outside, then sitting at lunchtime with another child. However, on the day I met Brayan, it was different… we started playing together and stuck together all day. He loves to do mazes and wordsearches (even in English), and loves soccer and drawing with chalk too.

    That first year, I was in charge of organizing local mission efforts for my college, so I ended up being able to go on five trips over the course of one school year, and every time I went, Brayan and I spent the day together. When I graduated at the end of the year, I moved to San Diego (coincidentally), meaning I was even closer to Mexico – it takes less than 90 minutes to get from my doorstep to the orphanage gates.

    Since then, I’ve tried to go visit Brayan as often as I can. When my now-husband I started dating, he began coming on trips too, so now Brayan has two of us to spend the day with. I’m so thankful that my husband is available as a male to play with Brayan, especially as he’s gotten a little older… I’m thankful that I’m much more proficient in Spanish than my husband, so they still have to keep me around. 🙂

    In the past couple years, trips have stopped for awhile because of safety concerns, and now they aren’t quite as frequent, but we’re still able to visit Brayan about four times a year. In the meantime, we try to write letters, which get delivered via the director of CDV, who visits each of the homes regularly. I’ll be the first to confess, though, that we aren’t always faithful in writing letters, although we think about Brayan often.

    We actually just went on a trip on Saturday, but it was a little different than usual because Brayan wasn’t there – the first time that’s occurred. It was his birthday that day, so his mom took him and a few siblings out for the day. I’m THRILLED that Brayan got to spend the day with his mom – that’s exactly the way a boy should get to spend his birthday! But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little disappointed that we didn’t get to hang out with him.

    I’m expecting a baby in June, so I’m not quite sure what will happen with our visits after that… I’m guessing things will change in some way, whether it means getting our daughter a passport as soon as she’s born so she can join in, or determining whether we should leave our own child at home to go visit another.

    Anyways, all that to say that my “orphanage experience” has been a positive one. It’s not perfect – there are times when we look around at the volunteers and think they’re doing a poor job (like the teenage volunteer teaching one of the kids last Saturday to say “oh my God.”) But, I don’t think the children have ever been in danger – they’re careful to keep us all in common areas, and there are TONS of adults around… we’re only there for about 4-5 hours during the day, so it’s not like we’re able to spread out too much.

    I am SO thankful for Brayan’s presence in our lives ~ he is one of my favorite people in the whole world, and sometimes I’m amazed at the love I have for a kid who I only see a handful of times a year. I objectively think we’ve been a blessing to Brayan’s life too, as we’ve given him a relatively “stable” friend and are someone else who he knows loves him. The conversations we have, and the way he refers to us to his friends and siblings, makes us think that he truly does understand and value our friendship.

    Thanks so much for the work you’re doing, John, and for answering our questions – and thanks, Marla, for bringing up this issue! Definitely some good stuff to think about and pray about and be aware of!

  5. John McCollum

    Shannon,

    Great question. We’ll discuss some of that in later portions of the interview, and I’m actually going to be discussing that in one of the breakout sessions at the orphan summit in March.

    As I see it, I think that there are a three basic ways you can get deeply and effectively involved:

    1) Find an existing organization that you love and trust and become passionate advocates for them. Donate to them. Write them into your will. Blog about them. Figure out what they need — fundraising, organization, social media networking — and dive in as deeply as you can. It’s really important, of course, that you’re able submit to their leadership and are willing to advocate for their plans. Eventually, you may be in a position to advocate for different strategies or tactics, but it’s probably not impossible to find a group that lines up with your values and sensibilities.

    2) Get your church involved. Seek to understand your senior leaders’ philosophy on ministry to orphans. If they don’t have one, be a resource for them and try to help them articulate what the church believes about its role in helping orphans. Encourage your church to either create a relationship directly with a specific provider of orphan care or with another ministry that provides for or supports orphans.

    3) Start your own non-profit and do the work yourself. Now that’s a topic I could spend hours on. But this is a big deal. You should only start a non-profit if you’re committed to thinking long-term, involving other people into your vision (people who can help you, but who can also tell you “no”), and (probably) eventually making it a full-time career.

    Within any of those three options — and I’m sure there are more — I think it’s important to find an organization (or start one) that honors and implements indigenous plans and perspectives. It’s very easy to go overseas and see what WE think needs done, and it’s very difficult to discern what the people you’re serving really need and want.

    Does that help?

    1. Shannon Wheeler

      That’s a great help (and we’re still all hanging on for tomorrow!). We’ve fallen in love with Sunshine Center in Kiev, and I’ve blogged about them for a couple years and spent time there, and their director is one of my dearest sister-friends. I’d love to do more for them, and I believe whole-heartedly in their ministry. I see every day the impact it’s had on the refugee family who have moved from there to my town, and I’ve seen how remaining there in that home-setting has been God’s plan for “my” Sasha, instead of adoption, which was MY plan for his life.

      Starting a non-profit is something I’m very interested in learning more about (another blog series in the making!!???). God’s given me a general vision in orphan care, and He’s continually refining that and teaching me, and I would love to learn more about this avenue of ministry.

      Thank you so much. Can’t wait to tune in again tomorrow! It’s so inspiring to read the series 🙂
      Blessings!

      1. John McCollum

        Shannon, sounds like you’re thinking along the right lines. You have had long-term contact with this home, and you’ve already invested a lot of energy in not only forging the relationships for yourself, but for others around you.

        Feel free to email me john@asiashope.org and I’d be glad to give you a few nickels’ worth of free advice.

  6. Shannon Wheeler

    This series is awesome! Thank you both for challenging us to care for the orphan in the ways that prioritize the child’s needs and wellbeing.

    I’m very eager to read tomorrow’s post. We’re fairly new to the chuch we’re attending, and it’s an incredibly missions-focused church (which we LOVE), and one thing that’s been on my heart is to discuss some orphan-care/adoption related ministry opportunities there. My family’s developed a years-long relationship with a children’s home in Ukraine, and I’d love to do more to bless that center and facilitate relationships there (and it’s too cool that 5 of the kids who’d lived there are now living here and going to our church). I’m very interested in hearing what your suggestions are for people like myself who want to be involved in an effective and meaningful way.

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