Written by Dianne Becker, documentary producer
“Orphanages create orphans.”
The first several times I heard Steve Saint say that, I couldn’t even begin to wrap my brain around it. I didn’t have a clue how an orphanage – built to help children who didn’t have parents, devoted to children who need help – could ever be a negative.
But then I helped Steve produce the series Missions Dilemma – and my missions mindset had a major paradigm shift. Seismic, really, and it wasn’t easy.
I’d worked in missions almost a decade and I had to face the fact that I had done a lot of things that were hurtful. My intentions were good. But it was a hard look in the mirror when I realized that some things I had felt good about doing, were not good. Repentance is humbling, and it is good.
Steve Saint destroyed my romantic view of missions. And I am so thankful for that very rude awakening. I don’t want to cause problems just because my perception of a problem is naive. I began a radical shift, trying to see missions from the receiver’s point of view.
“The presence of a well-funded orphanage can create a ‘pull effect’ on otherwise good families. When parents see that education or food or other things they cannot adequately provide at home are offered in an orphanage, they can be tempted to hand their children over — unnecessarily.”
There’s that idea again — orphanages can create orphans.
This time, the quote came from Jedd Medefind, President of the Christian Alliance For Orphans (CAFO), an alliance of more than 180 highly respected organizations all working to care for orphans.
Medefind does point out that residential care can play a key part of a ‘spectrum’ of care, especially for children with intensive needs. And in some parts of the world, residential care is currently the only alternative to life on the streets or in abusive homes. But, Medefind urges, “We must always work to see children cared for in ways that are as close as possible to the ideal of permanent, loving family.”
But if orphanages create orphans, why do we have them? In the western world, we began closing orphanages in our countries more than a century ago. But we began opening orphanages in poor countries all around the world, and we are still opening them today.
Very rarely do both parents die and leave their children with no other relatives to love and raise them. Sometimes, parents do abandon their children or because of bad parenting, kids end up on the street and need a place to live.
But probably the biggest reason we have orphanages is because we westerners mistakenly see poverty as neglect and lack of love. We want to help children by giving them a place to live, food to eat, clothes to wear and an education. And then, parents hand their children over to be cared for. We create orphans.
We give them the superficial elements of life and rob them of the love without which humans cannot flourish. We need to look for ways to strengthen families, to strengthen community. We need to shift resources from treating symptoms to treating the root problem.
What do we do now?
Take a few minutes. Listen to experts from around the world who are on the frontlines of a new movement. They dream of a world without orphans. They want to close orphanages. They want every child to have a family.
Begin with prayer. Join the conversation. Shift your paradigm and involve yourself in the movement, a world without orphans.