There are 2 questions that I have been asked more often in the past 4 weeks than I could attempt to count. The question that I am asked the most is, “Do you have a job for me/my wife/my sister/my friend?” I will write a blog about that question soon, but the other question that I am constantly asked here is one of the most haunting questions a person could ever be asked…”Can my child stay at your orphanage?”
Can you imagine hearing this question on an almost daily basis? Can you imagine having people come to you that are so hopeless that they want to give their own children away? On top of that, many of the people who ask this have their children with them while they ask. So then you are put in this horrible position where a mother has come to you and asked if you could take her 2 daughters. I know that it is not possible (nor is it really legal) to say yes, so I have to explain to this mom why her children will probably not eat that night, and I have to do it in front of the very children that she is asking to stay at our orphanage. Being asked this question is not something that I would wish on anyone, and having to see the disappointment in the parent’s face followed by their child looking down at the ground knowing that this small sliver of hope is gone NEVER gets easy and you NEVER get used to it.
The saddest part of this scenario is, sometimes, the parents truly love their children and would keep them and take care of them if they could. The fact is, they love them enough to try to get them in a “better” place. The other problem is that being in an orphanage is not “being in a better place.” Institutional living, no matter how well it is run and how much the people of All Things New love Christ, is not ideal for a child. Most of the time (to say “all of the time” is not even close to the truth and everyone who is reading this understands that) it is better for a child to stay with their parents/family in a loving environment with individual attention from the people who brought them into the world. The problem is, for most of the world, it is not that simple. For most of the world, 3 meals per day is more than a luxury, it is completely unheard of. For most of the world, a free education does not exist which means that there are many children who never receive formal schooling and in turn are not ready to enter the work force. On top of that, for most of the world, there are either not jobs available or the jobs pay so little there is no chance of truly taking care of a family. So what else can a family do but hope that someone who is wealthier than them and can provide a “better life” for their children will step in and give their children a future.
This is where the cycle turns ugly in many 3rd world countries (ie. Haiti). Many Americans (or people from other developed countries) come into Haiti wanting to help, and especially wanting to help children. So they find a place to stay here and they see different “orphanages” where the children are struggling to survive and eat on a regular basis. The first thing that these teams do is give the “director” of the “orphanage” money or food or other items to help the children. In many cases, these directors use the items donated to help themselves more than the children because this is their job…exploiting children. Hopefully this does not come across as cynical, these are just some general observations I have made here that I am assuming are simply microcosms for bigger problems in the world. Also, if you have been on one of those teams who have sent food/money to places that were struggling, I am not downplaying your contribution. At that time, for those children, you were exactly what they needed, and sometimes short-term fixes are exactly what are necessary. I am talking specifically about making a long term impact when you find the place that GOD has called you to invest your life.
So, parents find these orphanages and they think that their child will be in a better place where they will be able to eat and be educated. They think that their children will have food, shelter, clothing, etc. provided by teams or organizations that come in to help. These parents know that they cannot feed their children, and when you are starving (which I cannot say this from experience because I have no idea what it is like to be starving) food is the only thing that matters. The desire to nurture, to love, to care for, really the desire to parent must bow to the desire to give your child the simple nutrition that he/she needs to survive. The parents probably know that their child will not be nurtured or even really loved, but they believe that their child will be fed and because of that will still be alive. And so the “orphanage business” is perpetuated by parents/families who want their children to be fed and educated and believe that the only way to accomplish this is by putting them in an orphanage coupled with the fact that there are people all over the world who will take advantage of anyone (including children) if they think it will help themselves.
So we come back to that haunting question…”Can my child stay at your orphanage?” How do you answer this question, and better yet, how do you get to a point where people do not have to ask this question anymore about children that they love? And this is the problem…I have no idea. I know that we are going to take care of our children here at All Things New. I know that we are going to teach them what it means to raise a family, to find a job, and to contribute to their society. We are going to teach them that children are not a tool to use for exploitation but a gift that GOD gives us so that we can raise them to know what it means to love Him. I wish that every parent who came to our gate with their children could find a job here. I wish we had the means to reunite every loving parent with their children and to ensure that they would always get to be together, but we cannot do that. It would be too expensive, too time consuming (there would have to be consistent follow-up to make sure that parents were not exploiting their own children), and seemingly impossible at this point. We have reunited some of our children with their families, and we have given jobs to men and women that enable their families to stay together, but to do this on a large scale would be overwhelming. We will continue to keep as many families as possible together and help as many people here to find work as possible (read our next blog for more explanation about this). But reunification on a large scale will have to happen through someone else for now. The best thing we can do right now is teach our children, the children that GOD puts in our path, what it means to take care of their family no matter what. We can teach them job skills and make sure they are educated so that their futures and their children’s futures are secure. We can make sure that none of our children grow up and have to ask the question, “Can my child stay at your orphanage?” We can influence as many children as we possibly can to make sure that this cycle shuts down and that the new families that are started in the next 10 years can stay together.
I will close with some advice/warning to anyone reading this blog. First of all, I know that the majority of you are All Things New supporters, and we are so appreciative of that. I can promise you that we will do the best we can with the resources we have to influence this country for Christ, and to ensure that children are cared for and shown Christ every single day of their lives. I will also caution everyone who reads this to be very careful with how they donate money here. Make sure you trust the people who run the organizations that you are sending money to and make sure you are comfortable that they are doing what they say with the money they receive. Just like anywhere else in the world, there are people who are dishonest and will do little more than pad their own pockets with money that is sent. There is a temptation to find places here that are rundown, poor, and have very poor facilities here thinking that they need your help more than other places. Just be wise and do not send resources because you want to “save” a place, send resources where you can trust that the resources are truly going to children or to the people who truly need them.