Let’s do a little word association. When you think of the word “orphan”, what picture pops into your mind?
If you’re like most, you may be imagining a child who’s lost both parents and lives in an orphanage. If that’s the case, this post might surprise you.
UNICEF and many other global partners define an orphan as “a child who has lost one or both parents.” They distinguish between single orphans (who have lost one parent) and double orphans (who have lost both parents). This is significant, because it affects the way we look at orphan statistics, which in turn changes the way we serve both orphans and their communities.
Currently, there are around 132-150 million orphans around the world. (1) Without knowing the definition of an orphan, it’s easy to assume all these children are in need of homes and care. However, of this number, only 13-18 million have lost both parents. (2) and only 8 million are living in institutional care. (3) This means we must often adjust our focus from individual children to familial support.
For example, in the majority of African countries, the culture is communal. If a child loses both his parents, it’s common and expected for another relative to take him in. But, in some of these same cultures, loving families see an orphanage pop up—with food, beds, and vitamins—and think, “I can’t provide for my child’s physical needs in the same way, so I’ll send him to the orphanage.” It’s a sad reality because, in most cases, a family is the healthiest place a child can be.
To allow the family every opportunity to care for the child well, we ask questions like, “How can we help ease the burden of families caring for orphans in regards to food, health care and education?”
It’s important to note, we also recognize many children do need a safe place to live—whether for a short period of time while their parents get back on their feet, or for their entire childhood where they can build a support system for life. At VisionTrust, we are humbled to partner with local heroes who care for children like Yanet from our Transitional Home in Peru or Delton in the Dominican Republic.
I share all of this because it’s another essential piece in understanding how to help without hurting. Last week I gave you important questions to ask before donating your time and money to an organization. When researching orphanages to partner with, ask yourself, “Is there local, sustainable involvement and input?” The answer to this question will help you see if the organization has examined cultural implications when deciding if an orphanage is the best answer to the community’s unique situation.
PS- I'm going to take a couple of weeks off The Truth About Poverty series, so I can answer your questions well. Don’t worry, we’re not done yet!