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.
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).