Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Thoughts about 'orphanages'

Occasionally in the past I've talked to visitors or teams about orphanages. It can be hard when in a quick conversation or especially on-line to be completely understood, not to mention that with time people's opinions can change and mature. Please feel free to E-mail me if you have additional questions or need clarification of what I mean.

So allow me to share a bit about our feelings on orphanages and adoptions. I know currently this is a hot topic with lots of opinions on blogs, web sites, books and likely American radio and TV. You can search and learn from a lot more gifted writers than me and I encourage you to do so.

First let me clarify definitions of terms here in Haiti, an orphanage could also be correctly called a children's home and most of the children living there do not qualify as adoptable by US standards.  A creche is an organization which also houses children and also works to get those qualified for adoptions adopted. I will use these terms.

I admit to speaking out strongly at times concerning orphanages / children homes here. A couple of reasons in no special order:

1. I felt that well meaning folks came to Haiti, took in some children to feed, school and care for not completely thinking though the process. It takes years to learn Creole, learn Haitian culture and to know how to raise a Haitian child who can grow up and function well in Haitian culture and many folks skipped these steps.

2. Frustration from seeing lots of folks supporting children's homes but very little evidence of programs supporting Haitian families so that they could stay together. What parent struggling to feed their family and not able to pay for school, would not feel the pressure to hand over their children to a home where they could received food and education-not realizing the damage that can come from not being raised in  your family but a group home?

3. Feeling that for children who could not stay in their biological family that maybe the best option could be being placed in a Haitian Christian home for a while knowing that with Haiti's unfortunate reality of child slaves that great effort would need to be made to avoid this while supporting the family to accept the child as one of their own. This often happens in Haiti with relatives but still far to often the children end up being treated as slaves.

4. Hearing whispers and now horrific stories of the abuse that occur in some of the orphanages either at the hands of those in charge, staff or other children.

5. Only now have we started to hear about programs focusing on preparing teens ready to 'age out' for the real world of Haiti that they will need to live and work in but still hear more stories about the horrible places or places struggling with this concept too. Maybe such programs existed before and we just never heard about them.

6. Now with books talking about how to help without hurting, discussions of adoptions vs. supporting the families, discussions of small business and parenting classes hope starts to enter the picture. We need to talk about the hard topics and discuss together possible solutions.

I try not to make vast generalizations and apologize if in the past that is how I was understood. There will always be children who need a different home situation and a new family through adoption. If the Lord tells you to open your life to a child needing a home then pray, do your homework and start the paperwork! Let us know and we will pray for you.

There are organizations doing their best to listen to advice of Haitians on how to help Haitians help others. There are folks doing things right with the Lord's help. There are people who messed up in the past, realized it, asked and received forgiveness and now working on making needed corrections. Thankfully the Lord can use each of us and continues to work on us and our attitudes every day. 

We need to help families stay together. 

We will always have the poor. But we need to learn how to help the poor, the sick ,the lonely, the sad. Help them keep their dignity. Help them on their feet. Help them be all they can be. Help them see the Lord's love. Help them find hope again. Listen to their stories and help them by being a friend. 


Kris Thede said...

I'm not on blogger or google so couldn't reply. Sharing my comments here. Post if you want. Excellent post. I strongly agree with all your comments. Most children in orphanages have family that can not afford to care for them. It is a far better thing to support the family in increasing their economy, be it through farming, small business development, or whatever. Obviously, it is better for the child to live in a family environment, and it is far more cost effective as well. Imagine how many families could benefit from what it costs to raise one child for 15+ years in an orphanage!

In a meeting several years ago with Haitian mountain women we were discussing the needs of the community. An orphanage came up. When I asked about how many true orphans, with no family, there might be in the greater area the number was under 15. Then I asked "what about the restaveks, shouldn't they have such an opportunity?". They all loved that idea. Then i asked how many kids there might be - they could not fathom, so of the 60 or so women in the meeting I asked each if they had given up any children. The average was 2 per woman. I was speechless.

I served on a board for one orphanage in PAP as was friend's with the Haitian director - it was then that I started to see all the abuse. To the director it was a business, nothing more. She employed her family. We shut it down.

So many people come to start orphanages as they had a need of their own. That's how it appears anyway.

One of my driving forces to stay here is keeping kids out of the restavek situation by helping families improve their livelihood.

I have seen some well run orphanages, and like you, am generalizing.

Sorry for the lengthy comment, but it is something that has bothered me for years. Tom Braak


Thanks, Kris, for this post. I find it very helpful, especially so coming from someone who is on the front lines of helping the poor. I love your perspective and wisdom! May the Lord continue to give you strength, joy, and wisdom as you minister there.


shelley merritt.

Jess Furrow said...

I think you have heard of them, but if not there's a ministry in Port au Prince called Heartline that I visited back in 2007 and they at the time ran a creche but now they focus on family preservation. They have turned the children's home into a maternity center and monitor, hold classes for, and build relationships with women who are pregnant through the first year of their child's life. It sounds like such an awesome thing for these women and their families and I love that there is a push for and awareness of the benefits of family preservation now!

Cheralyn Raymer said...

Thank you for this post. It is very timely as I am presetly reading the chapter about orphanages in a book about Orphan Care. I have been thinking a lot about orphanages the last few days and my opinions and understanding is changing. Thank you for adding to my understanding of what is going on. Thank you for the work you do there, helping those in need.