I’m currently reading through an excellent book written by Johnny Carr (with Laura Captari) called Orphan Justice. I was really impacted by a chapter in the book on orphans and orphanages as it brought back to mind many of the same thoughts and feelings that I experienced during my time in Africa earlier this year.
As I witnessed firsthand the extreme poverty of the people in a variety of areas in the capital cities of Kampala, Uganda and Addis Ababba, Ethiopia the images are ones that don’t easily leave your memory. Outside the cities and on into the countrysides, it’s not any better. In fact, to this day, daily, I think about all the hardship, hunger and desperate situations that Ugandans and Ethiopians are faced with and are forced to endure. It breaks your heart to see families with small children struggling to survive when we have so much in the United States of America.
I had some opportunities to interact with families having young (under 10 years old) children in areas where everyone was trying to make a living; doing something, anything that could bring them some money so that they could buy some food in order to get to the next day…the next week. Oftentimes, it was a mother who stood by with her children next to her as she explained her predicament. The children were poorly clothed, hungry, had little to do other than explore the neighborhood and play creatively with anything they could find. One thing that I also saw however was the love and concern that these women had for their children. Regardless of their circumstances, these children had the gentle and comforting touch of their mom to cling to in their distress. They were loved and they knew it.
I also had opportunities to visit some orphanages and one thing you can count on, when children in need enter orphanages, it is rarely, if ever, under “good” circumstances. Some children in orphanages do have families. They are simply unable to care for them. The orphanages I entered happened to be well-run with solid routines, a reasonably-structured day, enough food and liquids to keep those little tummies full and decent staff-to-child ratio if you included some of those that volunteered. But moms weren’t there. No matter how caring the staff can be, they still aren’t ‘mom.’
So you’re faced with the question, “What’s better?” To have your 3 square meals a day along with the bed you sleep in and a roof over your head that doesn’t leak, or living with your mom who is by your side, touching you and holding onto you at night as you lay next to her on a mat on the ground and fall off to sleep. When you wake up the next day, there she is again along with your siblings. While you are hungry and struggling through the next day, your mom can still be seen as she works to find you your daily portion.
I still think about this question and will likely never stop thinking about it. I turn it over and over in my mind and I’m still not entirely, absolutely sure what the best answer is. There is research out there that says the emotional benefit of being poor but loved by your family has very positive outcomes in a young child’s life. Orphanages however do save the lives of thousands of children every day in African countries. There aren’t enough families out there willing or able to care for all the children in orphanages that need to be cared for. Did our good Lord ever intend that the growth, nurturance and development of children occur in an institution? Back and forth…back and forth…back and forth…What’s better?
In the imperfect and fallen world we live in, I believe that we should never stop trying to find families for children. Whether those families are in the same country that child lives in or whether they are from a different country, we need to try. We need to be creative and open to new ideas and different ways to support those in need in other countries. Community-based care is one of those ways (more on this down the road).
We need to try just as hard as those moms who are trying to find ways to make a living to feed their children.